The website Churnalism.com was launched last week by the Media Standards Trust, and allows people to paste press releases onto the site and compare the copy with articles published by national newspaper websites.
I’ve found the site interesting, and had a bit of fun playing around on it, but I’m not really sure what the point of it is.
If Churnalism’s purpose is to highlight the fact that press releases are used in newspapers – then it will of course succeed. But the fact that press releases are copied by journalists will come as no surprise to anyone in the industry and is hardly front page news (excuse the pun!).
Nor do I think it’s a bad thing if press releases are copied – after all if a story is good (and accurate) then it shouldn’t matter where it comes from.
As a PR practitioner I feel a bit insulted by the site – as though it is suggesting that all press releases are crap which should never make it to print.
The other thing I’m not clear about is who exactly Churnalism is aimed at?
I expect PRs will love having a go – a fun, free way of tracking coverage anyone? Plus, if you find your release has been copied in its entirety then that is a PR score surely, and a sign you’ve produced something newsworthy?
I can’t imagine journalists wanting to check – after all if they’ve copied and pasted a press release do they really want to be called out on it?
Churnalism describes itself as ‘an independent, non-profit website to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’. But do the public care (and how would they even have access to most press releases in the first place?).
I decided to find out, and as such did an impromptu survey with friends – specifically asking for people who didn’t work in the PR or media industries.
I asked the question ‘As someone not involved in journalism or PR – do you care?!’ Admittedly getting the answers from 20 friends on Facebook isn’t going to give in-depth analysis but it was interesting to see that actually, only half really gave a shit.
Some of the ‘other’ comments also gave food for thought:
“It depends on the press release. Every area of work allows for using work already done. If it is a large percentage of copied work it seems wrong that they should be allowed to do this, is it that hard to re-write something to say it another way? Isn’t that their job?”
I love this comment (and I must stress this was an anonymous survey – though I’m sure my friends will tell me who they are when they read this post!)
It’s a very good point – writing and researching is what journalists are paid for. But then on the flip side, it’s also what PRs are paid for – to create newsworthy material for their clients.
The issues surrounding the Churnalism website, and the reasons behind it, are age old – the love/hate relationship between journalists and PRs (many journos say they hate PRs but would then struggle to fill pages without them) and also the ‘purpose’ of a press release.
Is a press release a fully formed story, or a taster of a subject which the journalist should then embellish and build upon?
And if a journalist runs a press release word for word does that make them bad at their job, or does it make the PR good at theirs?
Or perhaps it doesn’t mean any such thing – perhaps it means that the PR/journo relationship is working.
Churnalism will clearly help demonstrate lazyness in the media (and indeed unimaginative PR) but it also makes it look as though every story comes from a press release. What would be a fair representation would be seeing how many original news stories there were on a day – COMPARED to those that came from a press release.
With regards to the effect the site will have I’m not sure – as I don’t think it’s doing anything that people didn’t know already.
It’s fair enough if they want to raise awareness to the public that this happens – but they should also make it clear that many press releases are well written, accurate and have a place within the news agenda.
What do you think of Churnalism.com?