I’m sure if you follow me on Twitter you will have already heard lots about the new website churnalism.com and how fantastic it is. Basically, if you can get hold of a Press Release you can copy and paste into the churnalism.com engine and it will trawl news article from 2007 to see if it can identify which news articles have copied and pasted chunks of the press release into their copy. Having played with the website yesterday I can see that this is an incredibly powerful tool to highlight just how much ‘news’ is actually PR guff thoughtlessly injected straight into copy as if it were journalism. In one example yesterday I found a PR that had been copied virtually word-for-word by the Daily Telegraph, as well as another example from the Daily Mail.
What also became apparent from browsing the site was that one website is currently dominating proceedings when it comes to feeding lazy hacks PR drivel: onepoll.com. This company provides an online survey service which seems to work as follows:
- Company signs up for an account
- Company creates a questionnaire / poll
- People fill it in (they are paid a small amount to do so)
- Onepoll.com publishes a press release on their website regarding findings
- Lazy journalists copy and paste PR and pass it off as news
It’s good business, terrible journalism. However, thanks to onepoll offering open access to the press releases it is extremely easy to see just how many newspapers are happy to copy-and-paste (sometimes word-for-word like the Telegraph above) the results of polls commissioned by companies to get free publicity.
However, I do not see this lasting. I think churnalism.com will result in such material being pulled from the public domain and instead issued only to subscribers – i.e. newspapers – making it harder for the public to identify what is and isn’t PR – or how much has been taken word-for-word. Right now it is still fairly easy to find press releases and identify churnalism, in the future I can see it becoming much harder as companies contact their favourite newspapers directly – as I’m sure already happens – and refrain from publishing such releases on their websites. In may become necessary for newspapers – so reliant is their business model on copy-and-paste PR guff being passed off as news – to insist upon it.
For more examples of churnalism see Five Chinese Crackers.