Writing News Stories Based on Press Releases is an Art Form

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

Press releases, which have become the foundation of news in Armenia, are a serious pest for the audience and quite an interfering factor in terms of a journalist’s self-expression.

Of course, no one’s arguing that the document texts of various agencies or institutions are convenient and available raw material for writing the news, especially when journalists are obligated to publish certain amount of material per day.

In that case, the press release, officially compiled and sent to all media outlets, is cut down somewhat and modified (or is not cut down and modified) and appears in the media as news. Instances when a “skilled” media outlet creates at once several news stories from a single press release are not few. This permits a media outlet to create the illusion of a constantly updated newsfeed.

The amount of printed information, words, and headlines per day is also decided by the media outlet’s market relations. The volume of news output becomes actual proof of the media outlet working intensely (we publish a lot, so we’re needed by both the audience and advertisers).

The press release written by a company’s PR department and in all likelihood edited and “combed through” several times is very rarely interesting. It, of course, contains information, but the “proper” style and, in broad sense, opportunity falters. 

That is, this is a document that is subject not only to be developed, but also to be neglected.

There are cases when the heads of a media outlet say, well we wrote the news relying on the officially received official press release, and so everything is in order, and we didn’t break any laws. This claim becomes ridiculous when they say that the thought was expressed by some psychologist, politician, or artist, and so it’s an inviolable fact and can be presented in the news as truth.

In the case of accidents and different types of emergency situations (fire, landslide, murders, and so on), the press releases of state departments are good starting points to start your own investigation or to publish them just as they are. In this case, publishing quickly, without modification and even verification is necessary.

But oversight (partially or wholly) is particularly important in those cases when there’s a press release on some event in the art world. 

The journalist who writes an article or news piece on, for example, an art exhibit, performance, or film almost always reproduces the thoughts that the creators of the work want to disseminate. For example, like this: “The film director said that he wanted to express…” or “The painter described what advice his paintings have…”

As a rule, art and the truth have a complicated relationship. And if it’s said that “[they] wanted to say” that doesn’t mean that they said that, after all. Or, that they said anything at all. Perhaps the exact opposite happened: the artist wanted to say one thing, but the viewer saw the complete opposite.

Journalists writing about cultural events rarely remember this. And they rush to accept the artist’s thoughts as a source of information and always cite their opinion about their creative work.

Obviously, the artist will say only good things about their work — even patriotic and heroic. Just as the state agency that sends press releases to the media, being confident that they will find a place in the day’s news, will try to present itself as only good and progressive.

Generally, journalists who cover cultural topics, it seems, are appendages to the newsfeed: they fill the gaps and breaks. Now when the idea of a first or last page, which the print media had, no longer exists, art has the chance to be dissolved in the entire newsfeed. That is, the chance that specialized publications don’t provide and which is the strongest evidence of art’s existence (to be everywhere, little by little, and shape meaning).

But to speak about art using press releases doesn’t add anything to the general public environment. On the contrary: it robs it, since it excludes the role of contradicting, reflecting, and challenging.

If a journalist doesn’t dispute or analyze the information in the press release, it is akin to a “bear’s service.” Say, it’s written that this is a good and new thing, but in reality, this good thing lacks attraction and doesn’t evoke the desire to communicate with the artwork.

We won’t say that the journalist lied in this case, but they definitely misled the reader (who, say, is much more informed than the journalist and has expectations of art).

And the reader who is less informed or doesn’t go to the theater or art exhibits understands that art is not that necessary or significant: it deserves to be news in general terms, but doesn’t deserve their attention or time.

That’s how they work in both TV stations and online media: they take the press release, combine it with what the artist said at the press conference, and release this pile of words before the audience as a news piece. The thought is the artist’s, the remarks likewise, and it remains for the journalist only to present them with pathos. And the pathos, in turn, kills the desire to deal with art.

In those cases when the journalist doesn’t venture to say much on their own behalf or simply doesn’t manage to watch the films or performances, perhaps an extreme step can be taken: take the press release and turn it upside-down. View the artwork from a completely different point of view.

The most convenient and adequate views are politics and psychoanalysis. An art exhibit or film will become an opportunity to analyze public self-awareness, where what is valuable are not the general terms, but the clash of thoughts and opinions, the views that prompt one to reflect and are sometimes contradictory.

Any disputable or controversial idea in art is more valuable than the undisputed wording of press releases.

Nune Hakhverdyan

The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.

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