I have only a very limited amount of experience in the news business: working as a volunteer with media relations during the two X-prize launches of SpaceShipOne, doing press releases for non-profits like the church and the School of Theology, having letters to the editor appear in both small and major newspapers, and doing a weekly column for a small newspaper.
However, from this limited experience, I have found that newspapers will publish your press releases verbatim if you write them in proper style, and then they will appear with some reporter’s byline over them; they never call or email questions; they never verify the information. They just print it as is. Half the time, they even leave the typos.
I know that many reporters did not read the press packets we gave them at the X-prize launches, and I wonder if they paid attention to what they were told in the briefings, or if they paid attention to the launches themselves. Why do I say that? It’s based on some of the questions they asked, most of which were already answered in the packets.
The reality is, that editors and reporters simply take what you tell them and run with it, unless you say something that is at odds with their perceptions of how things should be. Otherwise, they don’t check; they don’t question; they simply regurgitate. The only time they begin to do their supposed job is when you state something that is at odds with their world view.
When we look at how Reuters handled photos from those who sent them to them, when we see how they repeat the press releases of Hezbollah, it is obvious that they are not providing any oversight at all and have no clue how to research or to actually question anything. Reuters’ behavior is consistent with my limited experience in dealing with news purveyors. Most reporters are simply all too human: rushed, harried, overtired–and living on deadline. They’re just ordinary people with a very demanding and tough job that gets beyond them far too often.