‘Churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added. In his landmark book, Flat Earth News, Nick Davies wrote how ‘churnalism’ is produced by:
“Journalists who are no longer gathering news but are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false” (p.59).
According to the Cardiff University research that informed Davies’ book, 54% of news articles have some form of PR in them. The word ‘churnalism’ has been attributed to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir.
Of course not all churnalism is bad. Some press releases are clearly in the public interest (medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures and so on). But even in these cases, it is better that people should know what press release the article is based on than for the source of the article to remain hidden.
We built the site as a public resource — to raise awareness about churnalism, to help people identify churnalism, and to encourage original journalism.
The indexes press releases (and some news articles). The work is handled by Superfastmatch, with the website itself just acting as a thin front end on top of that.
Our hope is that, eventually, this website should become redundant, as news articles link to sources as a matter of course and provide comparisons of articles with press releases themselves.
In the meantime churnalism.com ought to provide a useful and constructive (and perhaps slightly mischievous) public service.
The technology behind the site was developed by Donovan Hide, with some help from Ben Campbell. The site was conceived and developed by Martin Moore and Ben Campbell with support from Gavin Freeguard and Camilla Schick. Chris Atkins helped to raise awareness about the site. The original site design was by Double Sided (and subsequently butchered by Ben during a revamp :-).
The site is run by the Media Standards Trust with funding from charitable foundations and donations. If you would like to support churnalism.com you can donate to the Media Standards Trust at Just Giving.
If you would like to discuss the site, or would like to offer suggestions as to how it could be improved, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.