Last week, the Media Standards Trust launched a fun little tool for detecting how UK newspapers regurgitate press releases – often with little further original reporting – a practice known as ‘churnalism‘.
Unsurprisingly, some old media types voiced their scepticism of the tool, saying all it did was highlight commonly used phrases such as ‘a spokesman for the company said’ and other unavoidable terms. No doubt this is true of the majority of, say, ‘important’ news items like political coverage. It’s the filler items (and unfortunately, science articles are sometimes regarded as such by certain press institutions) which are more likely to be churn.
And lo and behold! The first article I pasted into the tool was replicated by two other newspapers. An article on human papilloma virus (HPV) appeared in almost exactly the same format in the Daily Mail, the Express and the Mirror. No additional analysis or quotes were obtained by any of the papers.
In all fairness after some lunchbreak copying and pasting, I didn’t find many more articles which had been regurgitated quite so blatantly, suggesting the practice isn’t as rife in the nationals as people might think. Having said that, there were still many instances of newspapers churning out substantial quotes or phrases used in press releases – see this instance where the Times clearly couldn’t be bothered to source its own quotes.
I have often witnessed science journalists (and indeed other journalists) attributing this regurgitation to the increasing demands of the newsroom – namely that there’s no time to spend on the phone with contacts. There is a simple retort to editors – cover less, and cover better.