By Greggory Moore
In February 2011, LBReport.com ran a laconic news item entitled “Echo Chamber?” consisting of little more than a side-by-side comparison of a Long Beach Post news story with a press release from Sen. Alan Lowenthal’s office. Save for the shuffling around of a half-dozen words in the opening paragraph, the story was a verbatim transcription of the press release, though the story had a Post byline and failed to mention Lowenthal’s office as the source of the story.
Six months later, LBReport.com published a similar side-by-side comparison, this time between a City of Long Beach press release and a Post story that, save for the reshuffling of about 10 words, was a verbatim transcription of the release, again with a Post byline and no mention of the original source.
Since that time, on numerous occasions—including within the last week—the Post published press releases as Post-generated stories, typically with the byline “Staff Reports” and with no mention of the source of the information. For example, on April 30, 2012, the Post published a story entitled “LBCC Knocks Compton Out of the Park,” which, aside from the title, was a verbatim transcription of a Long Beach City College press release.
By far the most frequent source of such stories has been MemorialCare Health System, a Post advertiser whose facilities include Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. For years the Post published MemorialCare press releases under the byline “Staff Reports” at the rate of one to two per week. In June, for example, the Post ran eight improperly attributed MemorialCare press releases, in most cases verbatim.
Thus far in July the Post has run four such stories, the most recent example being a July 12 story, “Local Non-Profit Donates 2,000 Children’s Books, Brings Best-Selling Author to Miller Children’s Hospital,” which is a verbatim reprint of a MemorialCare press release published by EverythingLongBeach.com on June 14.
This was not the first time the Post published a press release first appearing on EverythingLongBeach.com. For example, on March 21 the Post published a verbatim transcription of a press release that EverythingLongBeach.com posted three days earlier covering Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez visiting Miller Children’s Hospital.
An example of a news story lacking proper attribution was posted June 12. Entitled “28 Long Beach Marijuana Dispensaries Targeted in Federal Crack Down [sic],” although the story is not a verbatim transcription of the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release on which apparently it is based, the U.S. Attorney’s Office is never mentioned as the source of information, even though the language of the story so closely mirrors the press release that both are identical in omitting any reference to the terms “medical” or “medicinal” and to California law allowing for medpot usage, as well as in applying the term “illegal” to medpot dispensaries exactly five times (not including a quote from LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell that appears in each), despite the story’s being only 430 words in length. (Because the federal government does not recognize the medicinal use of marijuana, it is not surprising that the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release is crafted in such a way.)
On Monday, June 15, Random Lengths News contacted the Post for comment regarding such practices. The Post did not reply, but on Tuesday, June 16, all MemorialCare stories in question were retroactively marked as “Sponsored,” with their bylines changed from “Staff Reports” to “Long Beach Post Partner.”
On June 15, Richele Steele, a MemorialCare spokesperson, confirmed to Random Length News that MemorialCare is an advertiser with the Post, and that part of the organization’s arrangement with the Post has been for the publication to run MemorialCare press releases.
However, Steele noted that nothing in the agreement barred the Post from identifying the material as such.
“That’s just a choice that they make,” she said.
In the interest of full disclosure, I note the following:
• I was a writer for the Long Beach Post from June 2009 to June 2013.
• In late May the Post informed me that, for financial reasons, the publication would no longer be able to continue to employ me.
• While with the Post I wrote two to three stories on programs within the MemorialCare system. In each case, however, all sources were properly credited, and the choice to write each was made independently by me based solely on my belief that the programs in question deserved coverage.
• In each instance of improper attribution by the Post of which I was aware, I notified the Post‘s leadership and expressed my belief that such practices were ethically unacceptable. (Because any subsequent conversation I might have had with the Post on the subject would not have been “on the record,” no information that might have been obtained in such conversation would have been used in the creation of this article.)