Start Spreading the (Fake) News: A Ratings System for Today’s Modern Press Releases

PRWeb CEO David McInnis says “There is nothing sacred or holy about journalism anymore” (other than news from the Vatican Press Office, of course.) But McInnis might as well have said the same thing about public relations.

As McInnis said later in a comment on MicroPersuasion:

We do not try to mask our users’ press releases as news. Our releases are clearly identified as press releases. If it is the kind of press releases you object to then I would have to ask what you consider an appropriate release. All newswires accept and distribute marketing releases. I had been using PR Newswire and BusinessWire for that purpose for years before I launched PRWeb.

I have no problem with McInnis saying what he thinks and doing what he believes – it is his business, after all. Nevertheless, since a “press release” now does not necessarily have inherent news value, the Googling public has a right to know whether what they are reading is actual news.

So with apologies to the MPAA, I propose the following ratings system for today’s modern press releases:

  • SESearchually Explicit. This type of release has more keywords than a post from an “A-List” blogger. It’s written to make sense to computers first, search marketers second, and humans third.
  • DCDirect Consumer. Still a lot of keywords, but written in a language closer to a known human tongue. Journalists should avoid these releases, however, as they might make them wonder why they went to journalism school instead of taking their mothers’ advice to “get a real job.”
  • BS – C’mon, like I have to explain this one. Most releases fall into this category; they are the ubiquitous PG-13 of the PR world. These releases really want to be news when they grow up, but can’t seem to get past the committee of corporate editors or clueless PR people who believe phrases like “paradigm shift” and “maximizing core competencies across the enterprise” belong in a press release, much less the English language.
  • IOInformation Only. These releases are harmless – there’s no real news value, but there’s not a lot of BS, either. Some examples are “Company XYZ is now blogging,” or “Simon Cowell is a jerk,” or “Pat Robertson said something stupid today.”
  • NWNews Worthy. These are the most rare press releases, as they contain actual news content. Journalists have been known to use these releases to write or broadcast actual news stories that reach actual people. NW releases, however, are growing more and more extinct – as are, not surprisingly, real journalists.

I hope someone institutes a ratings system like this, as it will help the public, PR pros and reporters alike. In the meantime, I guess we’ll all just have to fall back on common sense.

8 thoughts on “Start Spreading the (Fake) News: A Ratings System for Today’s Modern Press Releases

  1. I couldn’t agree more.
    As an avid user of online PR, and specifically’s service, it makes sense.
    In fact, I left a post yesterday to this same effect: Why PRWeb?
    Your tagging system looks like a good start.
    And you’re right: The Googling Public DOES need to use some common sense in perusing the news… then again, isn’t that expecting a lot from the general public?

  2. I appreciate your post. I only disagree with one line, “a “press release” now does not necessarily have inherent news value…” I would argue that there can be good news value in press release content. I that I personally have found helpful stuff in press release content. Standards body for creating a tagging system. I may just pick up on this myself.

  3. Thanks for commenting, Mr. McInnis. I was actually just being sarcastic when I said a press release now has no inherent news value, playing off what you said about not “masking” your users’ press releases as news.If a press release is not news, then it should not be called a press release.
    I very much agree with you — much press release content does have good value, which is as it should be.
    Thanks again for the comment and for the conversation, I appreciate it!

  4. I’ve worked on several sides of the PR Release and I disagree wholeheartedly. There is a lot more value to news releases with the expanding SEC rules, desire for transparency, as well as the prevalence of journalists searching for news online. If you can’t trust the news you here on the TV, you’ll always have a clearly sourced press release.

  5. If a press release contains actual news, then it is a press release. That news can take many shapes, including meeting SEC regs, but it has to be factual and free of hyperbole.
    The “ratings system” rant was an attempt at humor — the above paragraph is not.

  6. Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated said the Press Release

    The actual Mark Twain quote is The report of my death was an exaggeration. When it comes to the much maligned press release, no matter how much some might wish the death notice to be true, the press release as

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