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January 31, 2008updated 01 Feb 2008 2:05am

Journalism or ‘churnalism’ – what happens in your newsroom?

By Dominic Ponsford1

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.

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.

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

Davies also looks at the diary of a regional newspaper reporter – who over a week said they produced 48 stories, worked 45.5 hours and spent just three hours out of the office.

Davies’ description of newsrooms where journalists just churn out copy – because they have no time to do anything else – doesn’t ring true for Press Gazette.

Perhaps I would say that, but we try to strike a balance between – moving quickly, covering a lot of ground and, yes, churning out stories – and picking our targets to dig deeper, explore the issues and investigate.

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The description of life on a regional daily in his report does sound very familiar. But don’t canny and experienced reporters even in very busy newsrooms just need to become quick enough at turning around the more straight forward bread and butter stories to free them up to get out of the office and spend more time investigating those essential off-diary exclusives?

Hasn’t journalism always included a degree of “churning it out” – or is Davies right, have matters considerably worsened in the last 20 years?

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