Posted on: May 3, 2011

Churnalism is a form of journalism in which press releases, wire stories and other forms of pre-packaged material are used to create articles newspapers and other news media in order to meet increasing pressures of time and cost without undertaking further research or checking.  

Journalists are constantly being critisiced for ‘churning’ out press releases and not putting any real effort in. British journalist Nick Davies wrote about churnalism in his book Flat Earth News. He found that 80% of the stories in Britain’s quality press were not original and that only 12% of stories were generated by reporters. The fear is that there may be a reduction of quality and accuracy if stories are based solely on press releases and lack original journalism. Unfortunately the day of the roving reporter is gone following budget squeezes and shrinking news teams at most publishing houses and broadcasters. This has caused some journalists to be lazy and ‘churn’ out press releases.

The Media Standards Trust introduced Churnalism.com. The site enables visitors to check press releases against more than three million news articles, from national newspapers and the websites of major broadcasters. It allows the user to cut and paste the copy of a press release into a generator that then matches it to news stories that have appeared in the national media. The non profit website creates a database of ‘churnalism’, and these can be shared via Twitter or Facebook. It is hoped that this website will nudge journalists to be more open about their use of PR material, and encourage original journalism.

However I do think that some churnalism can be used. News stories should be objective and based on fact, whatever the source. As long as the details on the press release are correct and verified, there’s no harm in churnalism here and there.

The relationship between journalists and PR practioners is a complicated one and do not always see eye to eye. They have to work together because there can’t be one without the other, and so good quality press releases along with some original journalism seeking their news is important.

I read an interesting article about how social media may be one of the cures for ‘churnalism’. It talked about how most organisations are now really starting to encourage a feedback environment, asking people to tweet back to them or join groups on Facebook to start discussions and debate within social media. They are also now looking to those areas to find news content. Churnalism.com should go some way to show that social media is needed for media organisations. This will help to provide journalists with the tools to put their own angle on news that originates from a press release.

The article can be found here: http://reputationonline.co.uk/2011/02/25/is-social-media-one-of-the-cures-for-churnalism/


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