by Dan Ward
A Poynter Institute report caught my eye today regarding a lawsuit filed by Steve Penn against his former employer, McClatchy Newspapers. Penn was fired last year by the Kansas City Star for “using material that wasn’t his and representing it as his own work.”
But he wasn’t accused of copying and reprinting other journalists’ work as his own. He was essentially accused of plagiarism because he lifted copy directly from news releases he had received, and printed this information without attribution.
I’m proud to say that copy from many Curley & Pynn news releases has been “lifted” by reporters over the years. At times, our releases have run virtually verbatim in major news outlets. I’ve often thanked reporters for such coverage. Never once have I thought to accuse them of plagiarism.
If the Star had a written policy that required attribution of information pulled from news releases, then they were likely justified in firing Penn. But attribution or not, I have a hard time understanding how using a news release to build a story is tantamount to plagiarism.
When I clip a coupon from the newspaper and use it to save money on a purchase, that’s not stealing. I’m using the coupon for its intended purpose. The same is true of any reporter who uses a news release to build his or her story.