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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Churnalism and social media

The journalists’ fast-paced style of work, reduction in journalistic teams and more and more advertising space to fill, make journalists more susceptible to use PR materials without any criticism. There was even a new term coined for such an automatic copy-paste articles making from PR press releases - churnalism. Recently a charity the Media Standards Trust has created a website where anyone can check how much of a genuine press article was copied from a publicity text.


That's how a 'churn engine' works

The director of the trust said for Guardian that “journalists often have a valid reason for using press releases, and will often need to copy and paste significant chunks, such as official statements and quotes. But on many occasions reporters appear to be lifting press release text verbatim and adding little or no additional material.”

In the book Flat Earth News, which reveals secrets of hacks and flacks’ work, there is mentioned a study of Cardiff University researchers’ team, titled: Quality and Independence of British Journalism. Tracking the changes over 20 years, which reveals that in British quality press 80% of stories derives from PR materials and only 12% of stories are written by reporters.

See how easy is to sell a fake story to the press:



Guardian’s media and technology specialists comment on that situation: “This is not the journalism of the Libyan revolution, the WikiLeaks cables, or the New Zealand earthquake, but it is a market for news that the public relations industry has spotted. This is the terrain of the unnecessary "sponsored" survey, where "brunettes make the best wives" according to a survey of men on behalf of Philips sensual massagers, and where Asda kindly concludes that "families are £13 a week worse off".”

Apart from the copy-paste activity, there is also another, bigger problem, in the modern journalism, which considers a phenomenon of infotainment (information + entertainment). In pursuit of interesting, funny end wacky stories, hacks more often then ever search for them on the Internet and rarely check their sources. Once a material appears on the Internet and is picked up by one traditional media channel, it spreads all over the news.

The fact of such an activity has been for several times proved by Chris Atkins, an independent film director, who have had many media titles, not only tabloids. His documentary Starsuckers, shows how easy it is to create a false history about celebrity and sell it to the press. In one of his interviews Atkins says: “If u want to do something true in the media all you have to do is put it on the internet.” and his four tips on how to sell a story to the press: “1. It needs to by funny. 2. Not too nasty. 3. You should have a name for it. 4. Telephone number to the journalist.”

Chris Atkins on how to make a fake story for the media:

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