Welcome to the world of Churnalism

Is journalism getting worse as reporters churn out more work faster to feed the hungry baby of the web?

Nick Davies believes the answer is yes, and has the documents to prove it.

In a recent column in the British newspaper the Guardian, Davies describes a study he had commissioned to investigate the issue. He writes:

I commissioned research from specialists at Cardiff University, who surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found two striking things.

First, when they tried to trace the origins of their “facts”, they discovered that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. With 8% of the stories, they just couldn’t be sure.

The remaining 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry.

Second, when they looked for evidence that these “facts” had been thoroughly checked, they found this was happening in only 12% of the stories.

His coinage to describe this kind of journalism: Churnalism.

In an interview with Heidi Dawley of Media Life, Davies elaborates: “Churnalism is the most important single example of the way in which commercialization has invaded and undermined newsrooms. . . .We had taken away from us our most precious working asset as a journalist, time.”

An arresting reality check for enthusiasts of “increased productivity” in newsrooms: What, precisely, is being produced?

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4 Comments on “Welcome to the world of Churnalism”

  1. John Kelly Says:

    I’ve been reading a lot about Davies’s book and hope to read it soon. Some of his facts are being questioned (the best deconstruction I’ve seen is here: http://adrianmonck.blogspot.com/2008/02/here-is-how-nick-summed-up-research-in.html ) but I’ve noticed some churnalism myself over here, of a sort you don’t often see in quality papers in the States. An example: http://voxford.blogspot.com/2008/02/media-monday-i-divorce-thee.html

  2. This sort of analysis would be a lot more convincing if it had a historical control. As presented here, it seems to rely on comparison to some half-imagined mythical past when news articles never involved input from PR people or second-hand material. I suspect a similar analysis of the British press from one or two decades earlier would prove most instructive.

    And on a closer look, this seems to be more or less what Adrian Monck is getting at.

  3. John Says:

    While I can’t confirm his opinion that journalists are simply regurgitating the information from other media outlets I’ve noticed that the world of blogs is rife with it – mine included. Isn’t that the point of the entire blogosphere? To reiterate what has already been written by 1000 other bloggers

  4. Craig Stoltz Says:

    John: That’s a great point. Makes me look back at my log of entries and feel an uncomfortable twinge of recognition. Think how the blogosphere would dry up if people didn’t just recirculate the work of others? We’d certainly have an easier time keeping up with our RSS feeds. . .

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