When reporters become stenographers

When reporters become stenographers

Some bloggers call mainstream journalists ‘repeaters’ rather than reporters, because, they say, they plunder other people’s words, without attribution, and call them their own.

I thought it was just a little hyperbole, having spent the best part of thirty years reporting and writing for the main stream media.

A case in point is press releases. I didn’t, and no reporter that I ever worked with would, on point of honour, ever use the same words as a press release in their own copy unless they were quoting the issuer verbatim to illustrate what he or she had placed on the record.

The releases, you see, are written by flash Johnnie PR people and you just don’t use their words. Rather, you try to craft the rewrite in a news, rather than marketing fashion. Even better, you read the release, throw it aside and try to find out what they didn’t include in the release because that’s usually where the better story lies.

Oh dear. I’m too old to feel crushed but some really slack work by both TVNZ news and the Waikato Times has diminished my faith in modern newsrooms to the point where they have become a parody of themselves and truly are ‘repeaters’.

Here’s a press release issued by Paralympics New Zealand:

It’s an easy bow to draw suggesting Paralympic swimmer Nikita Howarth could be the next Sophie Pascoe, but if the young 13 year old from Cambridge has anything to do with it at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, you’ll remember her for being the first Nikita Howarth.

Howarth is a shy, young teenage girl, but once she slips into the pool her demeanour changes in an instant. She’s focused, determined and ready for everything that’s coming her way.

The original release is hosted on Scoop, a news release clearing house.

Here’s TVNZ news’ version with apparently no attempt to change anything:

It’s an easy bow to draw suggesting Paralympic swimmer Nikita Howarth could be  the next Sophie Pascoe, but if the young 13-year-old from Cambridge has her way at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, you’ll remember her for being the first Nikita Howarth.

Howarth is a shy, young teenage girl, but once she slips into the pool, her demeanour changes in an instant. She’s focused, determined and ready for everything that’s coming her way.

Here’s TVNZ news’ full story

Here’s the Waikato Times’s intro to the story it ran, slightly altered:

It would be an easy bow to draw to suggest Paralympic swimmer Nikita Howarth could be the next Sophie Pascoe, but the 13-year-old from Cambridge hopes people will look at her as the first Nikita Howarth after the London Paralympic Games.

At 13, Howarth is understandably shy, but when she slips into the pool her demeanour changes. She’s focused, determined and ready for everything that’s coming her way.
Here the Times’ full story

It gets worse. Both organs follow the sentence structure and most of the words in the same order, using many of the same phrases all the way through.

They should hang their heads in shame. This makes them stenographers, not reporters.