Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Churnalism - Journalism Direct From PR Organizations

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 23, 2011

Journalists love to write original stories but there is also a lot of re-write work that has to be done: quick shorts, events, announcements, etc, stuff that doesn't usually need a phone call or too much fact-checking.

In today's media world, the temptation to churn out stories based on just a press release is very high because content demands are high. And this is where Churnalism.com, a new site based in the UK, tries to help. It will identify stories based on a press release and analyze how much of the published story was copied and pasted -- or rewritten with additional, original content.

Churnalism.com was created by the UK based Media Standards Trust. The goal is to reveal how much of news content is published "as is" directly from PR firms and organizations.

Paul Lewis, at The Guardian, reports:

"People don't realise how much churn they're being fed every day," said Martin Moore, director of the trust, which seeks to improve standards in news. "Hopefully this will be an eye-opener."

Moore said he accepted that journalists often have a valid reason for using press releases, and will often be required to copy and paste significant chunks, such as official statements and quotes.

But he said that on many occasions reporters appear to be lifting press release text verbatim and adding little or no additional material.

Churnalism or news? How PRs have taken over the media | Media | The Guardian

Churnalism.com found that some major newspapers reused nearly all of the content of a press release and passed it off as their own.

While many will wring their hands and complain about the quality of the media, there is little to be done. Media organizations face ever greater demands to produce ever more content with diminishing resources; and so "churnalism" is very much part of the new journalism.

Churnalism has to be balanced with original reporting. After all, you can probably create an app to do a reasonably good rewrite or copy/paste. If we had an app like that we could then have the journalists working on original content that can't be reproduced by machines. They'd be much happier.

Several years ago I proposed a color coded method of showing which text was copied from a release or outside source (red); which text was original (black); which text identified a money relationship say with a sponsor (green); which text identified another type of relationship, say a friend (brown).

With simple color coded text -- and it could be done in a subtle way -- it would be easy for a reader to tell at a glance the origins of a specific news story and any relationships with the publisher. There would be no need to go to Churnalism.com, or elsewhere, to analyze the content of a story.

A color coded publishing format would show that information instantly. But publishers are unlikely to agree to such a scheme, probably for fear that it would show their readers how little original content is being produced. The mediasphere would be awash in red text.


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