Thursday, May 11, 2017

Who Actually Wrote that Story You're Reading?

One thing that is rarely done here on The Chuck Cowdery Blog or in The Bourbon Country Reader is the verbatim reprinting of producer press releases. It is never done in The Reader and when it is done here on The Blog, it is always prefaced with a notification that what follows is an unedited company release, usually with some comment about why it seemed worth reading 'as is.'

Many other information outlets, in both traditional and electronic media, have a different policy. Many reprint releases verbatim as if they are the outlet's own in-house generated content. Some even put bylines of staff writers over the pieces, even when they have not changed a single word.

Public relations professionals are taught to write press releases in such a way that media outlets won't hesitate to use them, which means avoiding language and claims more suited to advertising. This is a mark of professionalism and the best PR folks adhere to it. But some, for a variety of reasons, do not.

By the same token, professional journalists are taught to use company press releases as a source of information, but only after subjecting them to skeptical appraisal. Usually, the first step is to prune the marketing fluff.

This is where you come in. You, after all, are the target of both the information sources and the companies feeding them stories. Why does it matter? Because most of us trust the news sources we use to do fact-checking, at least. When they uncritically pass on corporate propaganda, you get fed a lot of bullshit.

Some examples from our little world of whiskey and related libations.

From Group Gordon, a prominent PR firm, today: "WhistlePig LLC, the premier rye whiskey company, today announced that it received a $25 million asset-based line (ABL) of credit from JPMorgan Chase, replacing its current ABL and more than doubling its access to liquidity."

This is being picked up by business and general interest outlets, in Vermont and elsewhere, sometimes identified as a 'news release,' sometimes not. It seems like a straightforward business story, so why not? Because the claim that WhistlePig is "the premier rye whiskey company" is preposterous and indefensible. Whatever else you may think about the company and its products, no one except its owners and their shills would ever call WhistlePig "the premier rye whiskey company."

Also this week, from MGPI, a distiller: (HEADLINE) "Noted Master Distiller Justin King Joins MGP's Beverage Alcohol Sales Team." (BODY) "Over the past seven years, King has achieved widespread recognition as a highly skilled and knowledgeable master distiller for Ole Smokey Moonshine, Gatlinburg, Tenn."

King may be a great guy, a capable distiller, and a good salesman, the job for which he was hired by MGPI. This is not meant to criticize King, but has he really "achieved widespread recognition" in the industry? Have you ever heard of him?

In the present environment, it is hard even to criticize press release writers for all their hyperbole. If they know a lot of outlets will give it their imprimatur (for what that's worth) and put it out there, why not?


Fred Minnick said...

Love it, Chuck.
Like you, I get thousands of press releases a week. If something's important, I'll condense it, cut most of the spin words and post it. Some, I'll use to frame my narrative. While press releases are important for media, all media is beginning to use them fully, and it's a shame. But it's a part of the greater problem of staff cuts and the decline of good media organizations.
In our world, I tell one PR woman she's one of the best whiskey writers in the business, because half the writers just copy and paste her releases.
Cheers! Hope to see you soon.

Crown Point Marc said...

C'mon Chuck. If one person in California and one person in New York has heard of Justin King, we have widespread recognition. The same goes for Diageo and their Orphan Barrel.... thing/project; it's all true.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Thanks, Fred. I'm sure Amy appreciated the compliment.

Jack Bettridge said...

A third target of the PR release is the client. Every release is subject to approval by tiers of people in the company that is paying for it. Therefore we get phrases like "the premier rye whiskey company." The writer doesn't believe journalists will buy or repeat the hyperbole. He is simply stroking the egos of those who are paying him. Hence we get releases that begin: "Joe Blow, CEO of Yoyodyne Corporation, stated today that blah, blah, blah relevant information..." Mr. Blow wants to see his name right away even though even a simple rewrite of the release with no other critical analysis would turn the sentence around. That CEO Blow said something isn't a lede or headline. What the company is doing is.

MadMex said...

WhistlePig LLC -- the premier FAUX whiskey company.

Anonymous said...

So wait a minute. You're saying that big ethanol makes stuff up ? No way.

whistler said...

It can get even more murky than that. In addition to press releases, some producers are responsible for many of the "articles" that you happen across on Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc, and the producers pay ghostwriters for these. I have a friend who uses a pseudonym for freelance ghostwriting work (a funny double anonymity), some of which was for a whiskey company. He didn't know much about their product except what they told him and what he researched in 24 hours, but inserted their product into a brief travel story as a sort of covert ad.

I understand that the original post was about "legitimate" publications shamelessly reprinting verbatim press releases, but the markets for mass produced products now depend on the social media universe, and the producers likewise benefit from shady practices there as well.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Does your friend have any moral qualms about doing that sort of work?

whistler said...

Apparently not.