Science Reporting by Press Release

Science reporting "is more and more the direct product of PR shops," according to Charles Petit, a veteran science reporter who runs MIT’s online Knight Science Journalism Tracker. Petit says information spoon-fed to reporters through news releases has "become a powerful subversive tool eroding the chance that reporters will craft their own stories." Cristine Russell reports that "institutional news offices from universities, government research agencies, and corporations are putting out large press packages that provide well-written press releases, graphics, and even video in a form that can be used directly by news outlets that are hungry for stories but lack the resources, time, and/or experience to do more thorough reporting. ... Institutional publicity operations are becoming more sophisticated at the same time that newsrooms are decimating the ranks of fulltime specialty science staff." Petit cited examples of clever press releases that have been recycled into news stories, such as a recent University of Utah press release titled “Living fossils have hot sex," which made its way into stories by Reuters, New Scientist, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.