Journalists continue to react to 'churnalism' charge

Reactions to Nick Davies’s book Flat Earth News continue to pour in from around the blogosphere. As a blogger at the Readership Institute at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism notes, “for a book that has not yet been published, it sure is making a splash”.

The second installment of Press Gazette’s serialisation of the book, looking at the influence of the Press Association, is out tomorrow.

But the first intallment — making the accusation that much journalism is, in fact, “churnalism” — continues to draw reactions from journalists:

Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust is more charitable. What is really shocking, Moore writes, is how opaque journlists’ reliance on PR and wire copy actually is.

He writes: “If this research is true – and it is one of the first attempts to explore the murky relationship between news and PR – then news organisations should not go into ostrich-like self-denial but open themselves up. Be explicit when they are using press releases. Tell the reader if a report is substantially based on agency copy.”

Denying there is a close relationship is absurd and unsustainable. Being transparent is both more honest to the public and accentuates the value of original journalism.

Charlie Beckett of the Polis journalism thinktank at the London School of Economics argues that Davies’s book and the Cardiff University research that supports it is “an essentially backward-looking piece of work“.

Becckett says the “churnalism” study wrongly looks at “news production as a static object” and compares it unfavorably “to some Golden past Age”, an approach that fails to recognise how new technologies have made journalists more efficient.

Beckett writes: “We need fewer journalists to process news. New technologies such as mobile phones have made us much more efficient in producing news. And new dissemination platforms and devices such as Internet links mean the consumer can access information more easily.”

Guardian tech correspondent Bobbie Johnson is waiting for his copy of the book to arrive. He is, however concerned with the methodology which seems to call into question any story that relies on any input from wire copy.

He writes: “In a 1,000 word piece of meticulously researched journalism does one line taken from Reuters invalidate the rest?”

Johnson also looks at the productivity enhancements that Davies’ book seems to gloss over: “What about the legendary tales of Fleet Street debauchery and caddishness? Were the journalists of days gone by always wedded to accuracy and impartiality? When was the golden age?”

More reactions here, here, here and here. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four × four =