We pay someone else to do our work, so it's all good.

I already talked about Paul Dacre's 2009 evidence to the Culture Media and Sport Committee last week, but I'm opening another post with it today. Hooray for the Culture, Media and Sport Committee from 2009!

Here's how Dacre came up with a defence for something his paper perhaps shouldn't have done (after 'strongly refuting' that his paper indulged in churnalism):

Q576 Paul Farrelly: One specific question. Why on 11 March did you publish the name of the village where Elisabeth, the daughter of Josef Fritzl lived who was trying to be resettled to live what you would hope would be a normal-ish life, given what she has been through?

Mr Dacre: You have caught me absolutely cold. I am not aware we did—

Q577 Paul Farrelly: You did.

Mr Dacre: I do not know the answer. Did other newspapers?

Q578 Paul Farrelly: You did it first and they followed you.

Mr Dacre: Could I look into it and send you a note on that?

Q579 Paul Farrelly: Given that you did, would you say that was responsible journalism?

Mr Dacre: I do not know the circumstances, whether it came over from a news agency, whether it was our journalist who did it. I am very happy to look into it.

Q580 Paul Farrelly: I am surprised you do not remember it because it has attracted some comment in the media.

Mr Dacre: In Britain?

Q581 Paul Farrelly: And it was a story of great human interest.
Mr Dacre: Oh, yes, the Fritzl case. I am not being evasive, I really was unaware of it. I am very happy to look into it when I get back and send you a very full note on it.
Not me, guv! It was another paper or a news agency what done it!

Here's what I'm farting on about. Yesterday, Minority Thought wrote a blog post about how the Daily Express and Daily Mirror had 100% copied and pasted copy from a wire service. There's been a bit of a debate about whether or not this should even count as churnalism, let alone be considered a bad thing.

What people like me, and possibly you, don't usually understand is that there are certain practices we would think are absurd or evidence of unprofessionalism that are just standard practice in journalism. It seems obvious to me that copying and pasting something someone else wrote and passing it off as your own is just not right. The agency might be wrong, or taking their copy from a press release, or might be putting stuff out that shouldn't be reproduced anyway, on ethical grounds.

Plus, it's just feckin' lazy. As a punter, my reaction to comments underneath Minority Thought's post is - 'Really? You think this is okay because you pay for a service where you copy someone else's work and pass it off as your own?' Anton Vowl is spot on about this, as usual.

Anyway - back to the opening. What you have there Paul Dacre trying to excuse his paper from doing something it shouldn't because it might have just taken it from a wire service, as if that would make it okay. It doesn't, of course. Turns out that the reference came from a freelancer and Mail hacks, uh, missed editing it out* - but would it have really made it any better if it had come from a wire service?

The problem with CTRL+Ving stuff is that you have no idea if a) that stuff is true and b) there are things in it really shouldn't be reproduced. Like a picture of Auschwitz train tracks in a story about Wales. Sure, the new 100% churned story in question here is a puff piece for the iPad 2, so that's not likely to be the case. But what's the difference between copying and pasting a puff piece from wire copy and from a press release?

And what if a wire agency just churns a press release? One of Chris Atkins' fake stories that publicised the launch of churnalism.com - the chasity garter - only got in the papers after an agency picked up the story. The story made it around the world. Did the PA story about the launch of the new iPad really originate with someone from PA at the event? How would we know?

How many stories that me or any of the other media bloggers who point out press bullshit (check the blog roll on the right) originated with wire copy? We don't know, because hacks don't tell us when they've just copy/pasted stuff. Would attribution help? Yes it would. Would it have stopped the chastity garter story from shooting around the world? Probably not.

Seriously - still can't get my head around, 'we pay someone else to do our work for us, so it's all good.'

The Chris Atkins video for those who missed it:

*Dacre to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee, as a part of how he 'refuted' the charge of churnalism in his paper, "Certainly our reporters when they get freelance copy should and are encouraged to make their own inquiries, to check them and take them further."

*UPDATE*  Wrote this without my copy of 'Flat Earth News', which I was sure talked about reproducing wire copy as being part of churnalism.  I was sure because it does.  A lot.  Reproducing wire copy is a major, major part of what Nick Davies (who as far as I'm aware coined the term) refers to as churnalism.  He says:
I found that national journalists have been forced to rely overwhelmingly on the output of a tiny number of wire agencies - one for the whole of the UK, just two big ones for the whole of the world - and that none of these agencies has anything like the manpower needed to cover its patch; none of them has anything like the scope of the old network it replaced; none of them generally gives its own editorial staff enough time to function as effective journalists; none of them generally attempts to check the truth (as opposed to the verbatim accuracy) of its sources.
The opening of the section of the book that explains what 'the news factory' is involves a piece of crap PR puff about an insurance policy for nervous football fans during the 2006 World Cup that started its life being picked up by the Press Association.

The same chapter outlines how the same pressures that have forced news outlets into churnalism have forced wire agencies into the same position; job cuts and scaling back of funding has led to journalists being expected to produce more and more content.

There.  The old CTRL+V of wire agency content sn't necessarily a good thing.  Who'd have thought it?


Philip said...

I'm sure Anton Vowl is spot-on as usual, but your link appears to have been badly Ctrl-V'd.

Word Verification: tergial. A heraldic term designating the bastardy of a sinistral caltrop.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

I'd be a great tabloid hack. Fixed now.

gregorach said...

"Seriously - still can't get my head around, 'we pay someone else to do our work for us, so it's all good.'"

That's because you're still stuck on this model of journalism as somehow being related to "publishing factual information", or "informing readers" or some other such nonsense, rather than what it actually is - finding something (anything!) to fit around the ad space that will encourage people to look at the ads, and doing it as quickly and cheaply as possible.

It's kinda like when you hide a dog pill in a piece of cheese - the cheese isn't the point.