Churnalism refers to a process where journalists produce news based on pre-packaged press-releases from government spin doctors, public relations consultants or news agencies without doing independent research or even checking their facts.
The journalist Waseem Zakir has been credited with first using the term in 2008 while working for the BBC when he noted that more and more journalists were resorting to Churnalism and that there was a corresponding decline in journalists actually going out and doing their own reporting and checking facts for themselves.
The rise of Churnalism
It seems that in the last two decades there has been a further increase in Churnalism…
Davis (2008) found that 80% of stories in the Times, the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail were wholly or partially constructed from second-hand material provided by news agencies or public relations firms such as the Press Association. He further found that many of the companies providing material for these newspapers were actively promoting particular political or economic interests.
Philips (2010) pointed out that reporters have increasingly been asked to rewrite stories that have appeared in other newspapers or websites, such as the BBC News Site, and to lift quotes without attributing them.
The rise of the blogosphere also raises the possibility that professional journalists might lift quotes from bloggers who aren’t as constrained by media industry standards and may derive their information from unverified sources, even from rumours circulating on social media.
The causes and consequences of the rise of churnalism
The causes of the rise of churnalism seem to be cost-cutting – it is simply cheaper for news companies to get their journalists to use pre-packaged material rather than do critical, investigative journalism. Political parities and public relations companies are more than happy to provide material for free because they are effectively promoting the views of the party or of the company who paid for the press-releases to be written.
Time pressure also plays a role – in the world of rapid 24 hour news journalists may not have time to go and do their own reporting or even check facts before their deadlines.
The first consequence of increasing churnalism are that there is a narrowing of the news agenda, with fewer original sources providing news to a wider range of newspapers.
There is also likely to be an increase in bias towards those companies with the time and money available to provide press-releases – which supports the Instrumentalist Marxist view of the media.
There could also be a decrease in the accuracy of news reporting, if journalists aren’t checking their facts.
Sources/ find out more…
Davis (2008) Flat Earth News
Philips (2010) Old Sources: New Bottles in Fenton (2010) New Media, Old News