Churnalism? We so totally don't do that.

"I do not want to sound arrogant but I refute that charge [of churnalism] for the Daily Mail. [...] Certainly our reporters when they get freelance copy should and are encouraged to make their own inquiries, to check them and take them further." Paul Dacre,  Editor of the Daily Mail, evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, April 2009*
"96% cut, 97% pasted, 3,198 characters overlap" verdict of churnalism.com on how much text of 'Baby blues: It takes 18 months for a new mother to 'feel like a woman again'' from the Daily Mail had been lifted from a press release
To some fanfare in the Guardian, a new website has been launched that can show how much of a press release has been cut and pasted into news items in outlets across the UK, a process regular readers will know is referred to as 'churnalism'. Churnalism.com allows users to paste text into a box, and searches a database of articles stretching as far back as early 2007 to see how much has been cut and pasted wholesale into articles.

Much has been made of the site's ability to check how much of a press release has been pasted into news stories, and that's also the main focus of the site, but churnalism is about more than that. Churnalism is also about cutting and pasting wire copy, and copying stories from other newspapers without checking (Ninja Turtle Syndrome). A great thing about the site is that you can check these things too, you just don't have to save those into the database of press releases the site is building up. Pasting in Steve Doughty's article about migrant workers that contributed to him winning last month's 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award showed that around 38% of it was cut and 19% pasted into Alison Little's version in the Express, with 506 characters overlapping.**

Coinciding with the launch, Chris Atkins of 'Starsuckers' managed to perfectly illustrate Ninja Turtle Syndrome by - among other things - setting up a fake Facebook account for someone called Tim Sutcliffe, claiming that the Downing Street cat belonged to his aunt. He got national coverage, appearing (apparently twice) in the Daily Mail, although it was swiftly pulled. Chris tweeted this morning that he could have gone 'sooo much further' with another 24 hours. Head over here (and watch the video) for more of how Atkins' stunts managed to find their way into the papers. There really is some great stuff there, demonstrating the importance of news wire copy for churnalism too, including the invention of a 'chastity garter' - which was covered internationally.

He also claims to have had his first angry email from a journalist, which he'll be updating about soon. Looking forward to that so much that I'll link to any updates right here. 

**Update**  Hah!  12 hours after coming clean that the cat story was a hoax, Chris Atkins gets an interview with BBC Radio Norfolk

This is sure to upset the press. A couple of years ago, a new site popped up called 'The Churner Prize', which looked at obviously churned stories in the press. It got pulled.  Before it disappeared, I remember the site implied that this was because it was run by anonymous journalists who had been found out and might face difficulties in their career if they went any further with it. Great.

So, get over to churnalilsm.com and start checking out how much of that crappy tabloid nonsense you know and hate has been lifted from press releases, wire copy and other crappy tabloid nonsense. As a great man once said, "You know what you gotta do. Do it. Do it."

*Paul Dacre's answer about churnalism was a masterclass in dodging and weaving to answer specifics of a question rather than the broader question itself. He seems to be answering whether his paper is guilty of churnalism, but in fact he's referring specifically to the charges of newspapers not having enough money for proper journalism, unquestioningly churning government press releases and, as the quote shows, freelance copy. Not press releases, wire copy and other papers in general, which are generally what churnalism is all about.

**I don't think Steve Doughty read the email I sent. His 'Gah! The Muslims are coming!' article still says that 0.8 per cent of the US population is American. Hey, maybe he just doesn't give a shit.


Chain Bear said...

You spelled churnalism wrong in the link near the 3ns, so the link doesn't work.

Otherwise great post! This will be a great tool in press monitoringness.

john b said...

I'm assuming you've read Flat Earth News - the distressing thing is, the DM is the least likely paper to fall for churnalism, because it's the only paper that still has an editorial budget (NoTW and Grauniad excepted, because of various exceptionalisms).

When I was a PR whore, I had PR published verbatim in the Indy, Times, Mirror, Metro and Express. I had it published after a 10-second phone call in the Sun.

OTOH, I had a 10-minute phone call with the Mail, during which I managed to avoid saying anything too Mail-ish ("would you suggest the fact that people in the UK are eating less chocolate and more traditional sugary sweets shows that they're embracing traditional values?" - "No, I'm absolutely not saying that, and I record all my phone calls to journalists"), which culminated in nothing being published.

The DM is the DM because it knows exactly what it wants to be and has the editorial budget to do so. All the other papers are just desperate. In many ways, that's even more depressing than if everyone was just desperate...

Yakoub said...

I recall M&S reduced the size of its till receipts a few years ago and put it out as a greenwash press release. The Guardian swallowed it whole, not even seeking comment from FoE or anyone. So let's not pretend empty-headed cut and paste is the unique province of the gutter press.