Journalism or “churnalism”? Nick Davies of the Gdn weighs in..

Over at the editor’s blog on Press Gazette

Guardian writer Nick Davies launches a searing indictment of what he calls “churnalism” in this week’s Press Gazette.

Citing new research carried out by Cardiff University’s journalism department – he claims that 80 per cent of home news stories in the main quality UK national newspapers are at least partially made up of recycled material from the PR industry or news agencies.

Which is kinda scary, no? Though I’d also say that at least a third of the press releases that come past me are recycling stuff that’s been seen in the mainstream press..

Looking at newspapers on a case-by-case basis, the study – which looked at 2,000 stories over two weeks last year – found that 69 per cent of home news stories in The Times were wholly or mainly made up of PR and/or wire copy. The proportions for other newspapers were: The Daily Telegraph: 68 per cent; The Daily Mail, 66 per cent; The Independent: 65 per cent and The Guardian: 52 per cent.

Phew! Interesting not-dealt-wiith question (at least, not in the blog post; maybe I’ll need to buy the UKPG): what proportion of the press releases coming in to the papers then got used? I did a study of my own stuff a few years ago, and found that 1 in 200 emails led to a story. And that was counting all sorts of stuff including mailing lists.

The research also claims that less Fleet Street staff journalists are now producing three times as many pages as they did 20 years ago.

An inelegant sentence, one has to say. There are fewer journalists, but if he’d put “fewer Fleet Street journalists are..” that would sound like some are just sitting around.

4 Comments

  1. I was involved with the research at Cardiff, and I can tell you that we did not look at what proportion of the press releases coming in to papers got used.
    This is because this would have been impossible without access to generic inboxes of all of the newspapers being studied as well as those PRs that come in by post, and the hundreds that come into the personal inboxes of journalists every week.
    You can find out more about our methodology in the report, which is available on the Cardiff journalism school’s website.
    There’s a link to the report in this press release (oh, the irony):
    http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/en/school/39/419.html

  2. You can’t conflate PR copy and wire copy – the two are totally different, and to lump them together in one statistic is meaningless.

  3. Charles

    Tuesday 5 February 2008 at 11:45 pm

    From the report (if you follow the link above):

    Section 2 shows that the content of domestic news stories in our quality media is heavily dependent on ‘pre-packaged news’ – whether from PR material or from wire services (there is, obviously a difference between these two kinds of sources, although, we suggest, not as much as is sometimes supposed)

    I’d agree – a lot of what goes past on the wires is only lightly reheated press releases.

    And also: “when we looked at the copy produced by wire services (PA being the most dominant on domestic news), the data suggest that the press were far more dependent on wire services and other media than this initial impression suggests (see Table 2.5). Indeed, 30% of the stories in our press sample replicated wire service copy almost directly, and a further 19% were largely dependent on wire copy.” I think that rings true too.

    And then..

    What is more plausible is that wire agency stories will themselves be based on PR material, a process we trace in our case studies. And as we report in Section 5, the PA reporters we spoke to described a heavy workload based on writing up to ten stories a day, thereby making them heavily dependent on ‘pre packaged news’.

    It’s worth reading the report – it’s sort of like a day in the office writing news. Except without the news editor.

  4. Interesting.. ive yet to read the book, and all i can say is that he’s probably correct in that fleet street journalists are just sitting around…(!)
    Have you read Mark Borkowski’s article on Davies’ book? Interesting, as it’s from the PR perspective (though i guess you can’t lump Borkowski in with the majority of British PR, being the character that he is!)
    His post is here.. http://www.markborkowski.com/?p=7345 i’d recommend it.

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