When not to re-use quotes
Last week, I tasked the PR agency of a hotel-booking website to provide me with quotable, money-saving tips for a Metro piece. They’d done this before, for others, via a press release, so I made the point of asking for fresh quotes.
In came the quotes, within my deadline, and I began writing my article. Some sixth sense, however, made me copy and paste some of the quotes into Google – and thanks heavens I did. In at least two cases, probably more and perhaps all, the quotes were verbatim from a press release issued in January 2018 and widely covered in still-existing articles.
I felt relieved, irate and badly let down all at once. Relief at having checked – it’s not something I generally do, or should have to; I’d also hope a sub-editor would later save my bacon in this eventuality, but these poor souls are increasingly time-pushed and thus prone to missing things. The fury came from imagining how this might have played out for me if spotted: at best, it would look like lazy journalism; at worst, deliberate plagiarism, which is about the worst sin a writer can commit.
As for the sense of betrayal, even had I not specifically demanded new quotes, this should have gone without saying.
The rules here are fairly simple. If you provide quotes privately to someone, then ethics dictate that you shouldn’t subsequently supply them to any other publication. They are that original writer or title’s privilege. If you provide quotes via a press release, then those of course might be used by multiple people – and that’s fine. What’s not fine is later reusing or reissuing them without simultaneously declaring that they’re from a press release (and stating when said press release was issued).
That was the egregious thing here: the PR shouldn’t really ever use four-year-old quotes, however relevant they remain, because they’ve exhausted their shelf life — but, if he or she does, they absolutely must clarify that those quotes have been sent out (and, in this case, published) before.
And, yes, you can quote me on that.
What Richard Thinks…