A few days ago, Harrogate Borough Council released a press release that was a glowing indictment of a department that they have labelled the “Destination Management Organisation”
This is a group that they said had officially launched this week, yet had been running for a year.
The press release was largely picked up buy media channels and cut and pasted as a news item – I think it is no secret that news channels learnt how to cut and paste quite a few years ago.
But turn the clock back 10-years, and there was a much smaller number of news channels, so they got away with it looking like unique content.
With some news items, it is pragmatic to cut and paste, like when the police ask for help with a missing person.
But coming back to the crafted, council press release, a quick scan through the Google search results, many channels have dutifully published without question. Your Harrogate, Insider Media Limited, The Business Desk have run it verbatim, The Harrogate Advertiser have added more, but then returned to the press release script.
The Stray Ferret, often criticised by the council for being critical of the council, haven’t run the press release – bravo!
The question is why does this happen ?
Those sending out press releases typically use a scatter gun approach. The individual sending the release out, may not even agree with the content, and just be performance measured on how many websites it hits.
Many publishers also work a numbers game. Get content out, then it will get the associated advertising on those pages.
Why isn’t the narrative being questioned and challenged ?
This is for a number of reasons. Perhaps laziness on the part of the journalist, a rush to be the first out with the press release, or some cosy relationship with the organisation that has written the press release, or really now written the news.
Another factor is that there is an avoidance of scrutiny. Any questioning on a press release will be met with a long pause, or not a reply at all. With the press release from Harrogate Borough Council, I have been told no one is available to comment for two weeks.
The avoidance of scrutiny should be an alarm bell to a journalist that there is something wrong, and that the press release is obviously not balanced. That is the case with the Harrogate Borough Council’s words on its own internal department that it is masquerading as a Destination Management Organisation.
What needs to happen ?
Journalists have allowed organisations to get away with this approach. There needs a return to running verified information, treating the reader as intelligent, and providing factual items that are useful to read.
So what about the press release on the Harrogate Borough Council’s Destination Management Organisation ?
In my view it will be assigned to the council’s list of great ideas to spend money on that never went anywhere. Examples of that include the “Harrogate Story” that had £45K thrown at some consultants, but more importantly the dormant Town Centre plan. While most people understand that a visitor economy adds to the vibrancy of the town, there seems much less focus on making a Harrogate for Harrogate.
Remember, it’s not what about you are actually doing, it’s about what it looks like you are doing…
Tim Cook, Editor, Harrogate Informer