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A Journalist’s Approach to Blogging

This guest post is by Michele C. Hollow of Pet News and Views

Journalists and bloggers are doing double duty these days. With massive layoffs and fewer staff, many are publishing press releases word-for-word. It’s been nicknamed churnalism. It’s when we get a little sloppy and use press releases as our own words.

As a freelance journalist and blogger who covers pets and wildlife, I get the same press releases as other pet and wildlife bloggers. I’ve often seen the same press release appear on different pet blogs. What’s wrong with this is that it doesn’t set our blogs apart, and what’s worse is that press releases always praise a product, person, or company. The press release on the dog-friendly hotel never talks about size and weight restrictions for dogs. (Some hotels only welcome small and medium sized dogs.) Or the release about cat food fails to talk about a recent recall. Usually press releases are one sided—and that point of view doesn’t tell the whole story.

A while back, I received a press release about a new organic human grade dog food created by a husband and wife team. The wife was feeding her husband dog food for one month to launch the product and they were raising money to fight canine cancer. I didn’t want to run their press release verbatim, so I called up the wife and started asking questions. I found out that they were also going to serve the food at a local upscale restaurant, and that the chef was pairing their dog food with different wines. I got a fun blog post from that interview, and my story was different from the others who ran the press release.

An easy out

A colleague of mine is working with a company that has 11 web sites. He complains that 80 percent of the copy on each of them use recycled press releases. He writes more than a dozen stories a week—many where copy gets pulled from press releases.

Public relations people love it when you run their press releases word-for-word. Unfortunately, you are not serving your readers.

As a freelance journalist and blogger, I have written hard news stories, features, and have gone over to the other side (public relations) to write press releases. The money over there is better. And as a journalist, I like getting press releases. Many fuel ideas for future stories. I do hold the line on printing press releases word-for-word. As a blogger, I cover animal welfare, pet care and people who work with and on behalf of animals. Pet and wildlife bloggers are a growing niche. There are thousands of us, and the same can be said of other niche blogs.

How to use a press release

If the press release seems like it would make an interesting post, look for a different angle. I may call or email the contact on the press release with questions.

Depending on the story, I may contact other experts to broaden the scope of the post. I just wrote a story that started from a press release about the negative effects the TNR (Trap Neuter Return) policy has on the environment. The Wildlife Society is against TNR programs. I’ve been hearing about this for a long while—and not just from The Wildlife Society. Veterinarians, wildlife professionals, and many birders deeply dislike feral cats.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t want to cover this point of view. I love all animals, and cats are at the top of my list. Still, I thought I should explore this fairly. I contacted The Wildlife Society and got quotes on why they are against TNR. Since this is a blog, I told my readers my side of the story. And because I love cats so much and disagree with The Wildlife Society’s point of view, I ran a follow up—this time with quotes and data from Best Friends Animal Society and Alley Cat Allies supporting TNR.

Thinking like a journalist and blogger

As a journalist, I need to present well balanced stories. Since it’s a blog, my opinions are often evident. Still, I think it is essential to get the entire picture. So, I email contacts and call them too. I usually start out by coming up with a list of questions. That has always been easy for me; maybe because I can be nosey.

If you have trouble doing this, go online and read other stories. Check out your favorite blogs and see if you can come up with a different angle on a story that you have enjoyed reading. Then ask yourself questions about the story. Is there more information that you would like to read? What questions are forming in your mind? Write them down.

Use the press releases; just don’t run them word-for word. Write your list of questions. If you have trouble coming up with them, talk to a colleague or friend. It’s easy to email questions to the people you interview. This way they can write down their answers and send them back to you.

At the end of all of my interviews, I always ask, “Is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to mention?” This is a good way to make sure you are not missing anything important.

I also like the person-to-person interview. When you are talking to someone, other thoughts and comments come up. This always leads to more information that is not covered in a press release. Personal interviews also build stronger connections. Many of the folks I’ve interviewed read, subscribe and comment on my blog.

Have you used press releases to create blog posts? How did you do it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Michele C. Hollow is a journalist who writes the blog Pet News and Views. Her blog covers animal welfare, pet care, and profiles people who work with and on behalf of animals. She is also the author of “The Everything Guide to Working with Animals.”

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Comments

  1. I still prefer blogger style when writing a post. Heck, I ‘m not a journalist but I can write whatever I want in my blog, of course I also consider and respect others too.

    Don’t get too strict to yourself.. Just write it out.

    • I agree. There is a charm to someone’s blog reflecting their own unique personality and mannerisms in writing. The risk of working from a press release or any other prepared copy is that the blog will be more stilted, humorless, matter of fact and impersonal. A large part of what brings me back to a blog is the feeling of developing a somewhat personal relationship with the blogger.

    • I am too follow my basic blogging skill.No way i can’t be a journalist any day.I know it will give more professional face to my website if I follow this style but I prefer to be simple.

  2. Hi Michele,
    I love how you took that press release to the next level by actually conducting an interview. That was so innovative of you!

    I’ve used press releases before – not word for word, but I certainly didn’t add anything new to the conversation. I just hadn’t thought about how I could’ve extended it. This opens up so many different angles and opportunities for creating unique content. I’m definitely going to give this method a shot. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Hi Kiesha –

      I don’t think of it as innovative — I think of getting beyond the press release as required. (But then, I have a journalism background, too.)

      It always was important to gather a few facts of your own and do that double-checking to see if the release is accurate or full of it, but now in the age of Google Panda and penalties for duplicate content, it’s completely essential. You may be actually hurting your ranking — as well as your standing with your audience — by simply recycling press-release verbiage.

      The other thing many bloggers don’t seem to know, along the same lines, is that emails are NOT interviews.

      Many don’t realize that if you quote from an email response, you should disclose that in fact that was a pre-typed answer you got, as in “she said in an emailed response.”

      When you open a quote and simply say, “She said,” readers think you spoke to somebody live. It’s really unethical to use that phrase when you reprint an emailed response. I know some bloggers who have never talked to a live person, and don’t even seem to understand that’s what an interview entails.

      I’m frequently asked, “So do you want to do this interview on the phone or on email?” We can do an interview on the phone, or I can send you an email you can reprint from…but it wouldn’t be an interview.

      Great post Michele!

  3. Hi Michele,

    Press releases are a great source of blog post ideas. But just as many people do with other blog’s content, publishing a blog post out of a press release word by word is serving injustice to the blog’s readers.

    However press releases can me taken as inspiration and one can make stories on different perspectives, an interview, a challenging controversial post and so on. The line is quite thick between a journalist and a blogger, trying to get it together is a sweet challenge.

    Cheers,
    Jane.

  4. I’ve never used a press release before, but after reading about your thoughts and experiences, I might just have to look into this a bit more and see if there’s a way to integrate this idea into my niche. Great article.

  5. Bee Art says:

    Just on Bees in Art, I’ve put a press release to good use. I was able to boil down the PR to our Bees in Art artists involved in a project called: Art for the Love of Sark. Modifying the PR in this way highlights the good work of the Artists for Nature Foundation and how our particular wildlife artists fit in. I’ll be able to add more to Bees in Art News as the project continues over the next couple of weeks – I’ve asked the project manager to keep me up to date, which she is very willing to do.

  6. I used to just add an introductory paragraph informing my readers about the product + press release. Then I copy pasted the press release on my blog. After Google Panda update hit my blog, I realized that those must be considered as duplicate contents by Google :(

    I de-indexed them and now I rewrite the press releases.. I don’t really have the time to arrange for an interview etc as I have other posts (such as review posts) that I need to do unfortunately

  7. I am so glad that someone is writing about this topic. I have started to notice this trend of people simply re-posting other press releases or news stories. It really does take away from the individuality of one’s page. It also sends a message to your readers that there is nothing on your blog or web page that they can’t get anywhere else. I use press releases often as a jumping off point for blog posts and articles, but I make it a point to create a blog post or article that speaks from my own point of view.

  8. Infonote says:

    Hi,

    Is there a particular site/sites from where you get press releases related to any industry.
    I agree that it is great to dig deeper into the press release and add VALUE.

    • Hi,
      Look at your industry and google associations or companies that handle your topic. I believe you cover a broad range of topics. For me, it’s pets and wildlife. I contacted nonprofits like Best Friends Animal Society, ASPCA, FixNation, and a bunch of others and asked to be put on their media mailing lists. In the pet care world, there is even a Veterinary News Network where I can post questions and get answers to specific pet-related topics. This is a great source for my blog for story ideas and answers.
      Best,
      Michele
      Pet News and Views

  9. As a former sportswriter, this was especially prevalent. It was easy to become part of the echo chamber but I discovered, as you did Michelle, that if you put in the extra work, it gets noticed. It feels weird putting your byline on a piece that doesn’t contain your original thoughts.

  10. Of course, not all bloggers want to be seen as journalists.

  11. Swati says:

    Hi Michele,

    Loved your post…more so because I am also a pet lover :P

    I manage a social media blog and I am always looking for some interesting article topics…i recently started using press release to come up with post ideas. But as you mentioned, I avoid using the same content and try to make it more interesting by adding my own ideas and looking for more information online. Interviewing people would also be a great option to get some interesting content, albeit a bit time-consuming. Ultimately it’s about how you make a boring press release, more interesting by using your writing skills and some level of creative thinking :)

  12. Michele,

    This is a great post!

    I am quite partial to this sentence “I also like the person-to-person interview.” since I have just launched an online show that focuses on one-on-one video interviews with very succesful women and some of the best business coaches in the world.

    Thanks for this post!

    Krizia

  13. PsychicJim says:

    Sounds like a press release is a good way to add content to your site if used in the right way.

  14. IMpopstar says:

    Yes, I agree: blogging is more about voicing your opinion and interacting with people than churning out “me too” duplicate content. I think sometimes we worry too much about constantly getting a mention, whereas really, even if you only have something worthwhile to say once a month, that’s better than garbled rehash day after day. The point is, we can all tell who blogs for quality and who blogs for quantity and we all revisit the quality blogs!

  15. Joe Dixon says:

    Is it just me, or does this post seem like the author has just written the same sentence over and over again, with different words?

    Perhaps a case of internal churnalism. ;-)

  16. Very informative post and good step by step guide will tell my friends to visit website.

  17. Evelyn says:

    As a wine blogger and former newspaper reporter, I couldn’t agree more. What’s even worse is when some random site steals your blog post and doesn’t give you credit. Bloggers who repeat content like this and copy press releases give blogging a bad name. Thanks for a great post.

  18. Using press release in a good and smart way, could be a great way for generating content to your site!

  19. Michele,
    That’s one thing about blogs that I like. People can have their own point of view without having to check in with the boss.

  20. Using press release to publish content is hard. Any way thanks for the tip.

  21. amberr says:

    I agree that press releases can be beneficial if one looks for a different angle that hasn’t been explored. It’s a great way to keep news fresh and relevant and facilitates a higher quality of communication and idea sharing.

  22. Evelyn Lauer says:

    As a wine blogger and former newspaper reporter, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Too many bloggers are repeating content these days–and they are giving the rest of us a bad name. What’s even worse is when a blog steal your post word-for-word and doesn’t give you any credit. That happened to me once. Yuck. Anyway, great post!

  23. Karan Lugani says:

    Press Releases are crossing the way and moving on way head in promotion as well getting visitors to the website. And they seem to bring a great deal by adding spice to the website and showcasing it in front of the millions. (if its a popular one)

  24. I never used press releases in my online journey so far, but your view on it made me think again. But hey, a journalist is not a journalist for nothing, right?

    Thanks for the post!

  25. I’m a former broadcast journalist turned blogger, and I like how you’ve presented this. A press release can be a good starting point for your post, but remember that the PR person has a certain angle on the subject (I know, I’ve been there too) and it’s your opportunity as the writer to think critically and add something to it — your perspective.

  26. First of all thanks for the Well written post, but i have a opinion here, i will Recommend blogger to not write on news until they have A news Blog , because News Content is Not For Life, but Good Resourceful articles will survive Forever !

  27. HGH says:

    its a good approach towards blogging…..interviewing someone means you have to put him as it is to the audience, leave the readers to analyse it and bring some results in their mind……………i think its a good approach

    Thanks
    Aimee Sparker

  28. Ann says:

    Good tips thanks

  29. Usama says:

    well it’s a great and different thought that we know today thanks for sharing

  30. I hadn’t heard of “churnalism.” But, as I think about it, I have spotted repetitive phrases in posts. This practice actually seems scary.

    I’m more likely to write something and then link to the original. That way the reader clearly knows the original source and my comments reflect my own interpretation of the material.

  31. Kim Clune says:

    Hallelujah! Thanks for calling it like you see it, Michele. I see this so much.

    I find a press release inherently good too, as long as it leads a blogger to an expression of personal reflection. Sure, we bloggers have the license to opine rather than present a balanced two-sided story, as stated in a previous comment, but even then, a press release should be a springboard toward unique spin. If it’s not, why would a reader bother coming back when they can find cookie-cutter info splashed across multiple platforms? Bottom line: people come for unique and interesting perspective. Let’s give it our all and make the net a more interesting place.

  32. By any chance, you got the name of that restaurant where they are going to serve dog food?
    Riley

  33. Brandy says:

    I get so many press releases daily in my email that I don’t want to copy & paste, didn’t think of using it at a different angle thanks for this post!

  34. I am so glad that you brought this up. It drives me crazy when I see large and small blog alike just repeat a PR release especially when no one even looked into the facts. Perhaps, if they looked at the facts, those bloggers would realize the spin the company took. It is maddening.

    I have been very disappointed in my own arena lately of the duplication of PR releases. I don’t necessarily think it is laziness, I think it is a time factor and a need to simply spit out the news. It takes time to interview people. Perhaps it has to do what bigger blogs are paying their writers, if at all? More content means higher blog rankings? Any thoughts?

    • Hi Anna, A lot of big blogs are not paying their writers. I don’t read Huffington Post or AOL because of that. And while more content might mean higher rankings, the quality of the readership is important. I don’t have hundreds of thousands of readers. My numbers are just under 10,000 a month. And I love my readers. Many work with wildlife or with pets. I had the head of the Born Free Foundation read and comment on my blog. So, numbers are important, and so is the quality of the readers.
      My readers are as passionate about animal welfare as I am. So, it’s also about the issues. And we all like to shine a positive light on the issues. If I just focused on the negative, no one would read it. Plus, if I ask my readers to send letters to a senator in Florida to vote to end greyhound racing, they are eager to comply. As I said, they are just as passionate about animal welfare as I am.–Michele

  35. Brad Harmon says:

    I guess it all depends on the niche you’re writing about, Michele. I can see where some product niches could rely heavily on information provided in press releases. I’d still think the better bloggers would challenge or add information to these press releases, and journalists are trained to do so. I tend to use the quotes from press releases, but everything else is taken from my own words, research, and interpretations.

  36. Excellent post! Those of us who write about animals and/or health have an extra responsibility to provide the best information possible! As a cat lover who has rescued several feral cats that are now loving members of our family, you have our undying respect!

  37. Hi Michele. I really enjoyed your post. It was a nice peak behind the scenes of a journo’s work life these days. I find it sad that so many news outlets are having to resort to parroting a press release instead of doing any acual investigating more for interesting stories. It’s certainly something that I’ve noticed myself as a reader online. I think that it also adds a lot of value to what freelancers can bring to the table for their employers.
    I do PR and online content strategy for authors and whenever I write up press releases these days, if possible, I will put out several. A regular, straight-to-the-point release as well as angled releases. Those are usually much more interesting anyway. I feel like it helps out the reporter on the other end to give them starting point ideas for a story to save them some time. And who couldn’t use a little more time these days?
    I’d love to see another post from you highlighting or suggesting ways to keep balance in any coverage that someone decides to do. Hard to find that on the web these days.
    Thanks again!

    • Hi Adonna, It is hard to find on the web. I try to be as objective as possible, but honestly, when it comes to animal welfare, I tell my readers exactly where I stand–and often it is on the side of the animals. I do interview people on both sides. But, as I said, if you read Pet News and Views, you will see stories that are slanted. For instance, I’m a proponent of spaying/neutering. I also tell readers NOT to shop at pet stores–and not to go to breeders. Our shelters are so overcrowded with wonderful cats and dogs. So, yes, I’m biased when it comes to most things animal welfare!