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February 24, 2011
Britain Turns to Churnalism.com To Track Insidious Press Releases
 
Wonder what you think about the website Churnalism.com that's just been launched in Great Britain. It's intended, says its sponsor, the Media Standards Trust, to help the public "distinguish between original journalism and churnalism." Is such a distinction all that hard to make? Or has PR become so pervasive, at least in Britain, that folks need help to sort news from...what?

The premise behind the site apparently is that as print journalism declines, there will be more pressure on fewer journalists to fill space with whatever they come upon.

Writing from London on his A PR Guy's Musing blog, Stuart Bruce explains that "churnalism" is "a news article that is based on a news release that hasn't had much real journalistic input added and much of it has been cut and pasted from the source news release." Through the power of computers, virtually all the news stories in the British press are being entered into a data base that can be consulted by web visitors supposedly worried about the integrity of their news-reading. 

A visitor enters a string from a news story at least 15 characters long and Churnalism.com's "churn engine" checks it against "all articles published on national newspaper websites, on BBC News, and Sky News online....If the engine finds any articles where the similarity is greater than 20 percent, then it suggests the article may be churn."  

But where does the site get the comparison press releases? "Since most press releases are sent directly to news organizations and journalists without being published online," it explains, "Churnalism.com relies on members of the public to find, paste in, and save original press releases on the site so that other people can see them too. The site is therefore geared towards creating a public resource connecting press releases with news articles."

So the British public apparently is being asked to help propel a campaign to...accomplish what?  Determine if "news" is being created from press releases (unlikely), or that reporters are being inordinately assisted by press release verbiage (more possibly)? 

Stuart Bruce sees another value stream in the effort. "...I can already envisage," he writes, "some PR agencies and in-house PR people rubbing their hands with glee as they imagine how they can use it (Churnalism.com) to evidence the success of their activity. 'Just look at how many nationals used so much of our news release, aren't we fantastic.'"

Spare us. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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