From Plagiarism Today:
In the summer of 2011, the subject of press release plagiarism became the center of a journalism ethics debate as Kansas City Star reporter Steve Penn was fired for repeated instances of using press release content without citation.
A year later, just after the Jonah Lehrer scandal broke, Penn sued his former employer for defamation saying that using press releases in such a manner was not plagiarism, but rather, a common practice.
The lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in 2016. The judge found that the allegedly defamatory statements were true and made without actual malice.
However, this doesn’t mean that Penn didn’t have his defenders. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), wrote a post defending Penn and saying that, in their view, copying and pasting from press releases without attribution was acceptable because “PRSA views the issuance of a news release as giving implicit consent to re-use and publish the news release’s content.”
That said, the PRSA did add, “Attribution is recommended, for example, when a direct quote is re-used, or facts and figures are cited.”
But recommended does not equal required and PR firms are, in general, very happy to have reporters use their press releases verbatim with or without attribution.
However, to say that such approval makes press release plagiarism OK ignores a fundamental part of why plagiarism is wrong. Sure, the plagiarized may approve of the use, but that doesn’t address the disservice that plagiarism does to the audience.
It’s that issue that makes press release plagiarism a journalistic sin and a practice to be avoided.
. . . .
When it comes to plagiarism, many people look at it solely through the prism of the plagiarized party being wronged and the plagiarist being a “thief” of their work. To that end, if a person offers up their work to be plagiarized, plagiarism appears to be a victimless crime.
However, the plagiarized party is not the only victim. Plagiarism is, at its most fundamental level, is a lie. It’s a person saying that they wrote or created something that they did not. That lie, however, isn’t told to the plagiarized party, but to the audience.
This lie can have many impacts on the audience. It can cause the audience to think more highly of the author if the work is high quality and plagiarism can give more weight and trust in the writing if the author is well-respected.
The latter is the bigger problem for journalists. Journalists, especially at major publications, have a name and status that carries weight. They are meant to be an impartial source that works to represent the facts of a story as accurately as possible, not simply a mouthpiece for the subject of the story.
People inherently mistrust press releases and for good reason. Though most PR professionals are honest and do ethical work, they are definitely trying to present their employers in the most favorable light possible. In short, they are an inherently biased source.
Journalists, however, are supposed to try and divorce themselves of such bias. However, by copying from press releases without proper attribution, they’re not only presenting the words of someone else as their own, but you are not indicating that those words are from the subject of the story and may have a large issue with bias.
Link to the rest at Plagiarism Today