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August 11, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:12am

Churnalism 2022: Where do UK’s leading news websites get their stories from?

By Dominic Ponsford and Alfie Davis

Churnalism is a word that came to prominence in 2008 with the publication of Flat Earth News by Nick Davies.

Back then he found 80% of stories on quality national newspapers at least partly originated from newswires or press releases.

At the time Davies said: “Now, more than ever in the past, we are likely to engage in the mass production of ignorance because the corporations and the accountants who have taken us over have stripped out our staffing, increased our output and ended up chaining us to our desks.”

Press Gazette wanted to find out about the state of churnalism in 2022.

But we looked at the UK’s six biggest commercial news websites (as at the time we started the project), rather than newspapers as Davies did.

Our instinct was that so-called churnalism would be even more widespread, given the prevalence of trending stories and the ease with which journalists can do quick rewrites of rivals’ articles.

As far as we could tell the influence of PR and news agencies was, if anything, less than 2008.

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But huge amounts of content is being lifted from various social media outlets to be recycled as journalism.

We looked at the first 100 stories published by the UK’s then-six most popular commercial news websites on the morning of Tuesday 21 June.

This research is just a snapshot because it represents just a few hours of output on a single day. You can view the full spreadsheet of articles in rough and ready form here and create your own judgement.

The research also involves some fairly arbitrary judgments about what counts as original journalism.

Broadly speaking we counted content as original if it appeared to involve some journalistic endeavour. If the reporter was merely repeating facts assembled elsewhere (on TV, Instagram, Twitter etc.) we’ve counted it as non-original content.

The Mirror and Manchester Evening News both carry a significant amount of content from elsewhere in the Reach network. We’ve counted this as original because it was uncovered by reporters at the same publisher.

For agency copy, we’ve counted it as original if it looks like it was produced exclusively for that title. For AP and PA copy, which is widely used across the media, we counted that as non-original.

Which news websites carry the most original content?

Our snapshot suggests that The Guardian is the leading UK commercial news website that carries the most original journalism followed by the Manchester Evening News and then Mail Online.

Original journalism accounts for significantly less than half the output at The Mirror, The Independent and The Sun according to our snapshot.

The Mirror relies heavily on content also published on Reach regional newspaper titles (nine stories in our snapshot) which, if discounted, would bring its original content down to 31/100.

Where do news websites get their articles from?

The Sun

The Sun was the news website creating the least original value-added journalism on the morning of our snapshot.

Instagram was the biggest source of stories for The Sun (14), followed by various TV shows (13) and then Tiktok (8).

Six stories appeared to be mainly based on a press release or public announcement, six were promotions for e-commerce stories containing links to affiliate advertisers and five were SEO. We counted SEO stories as non-original when they are basic rewrites of easy-to-obtain information which appear to involve little journalistic endeavour.

A Sun spokesperson said: "For a number of reasons we do not agree that the methodology used in this research provides an accurate picture or represents the modern journalistic landscape. For example, to suggest that going to a press conference with multiple other journalists is an example of original reporting is archaic in the extreme.

"We publish hundreds of stories per day and the majority of our 'original journalism' in the afternoon and evening when we drive our highest levels of traffic, so to sample one morning does not provide an accurate picture of The Sun's original journalism. Ultimately, any research stating The Sun breaks fewer original, exclusive stories than our direct competitors is clearly flawed and that would be apparent to anyone who regularly uses popular newspaper websites.

"The research doesn't take into account the value of digital journalism prerequisites such as SEO explainers which help our original stories to rank in google, or the use of social media as a journalistic research tool. This again demonstrates the outdated journalistic values applied. The Sun had record breaking global traffic in July and our most up to date Ipsos results - as reported by Press Gazette - show we are the only publisher other than the BBC to reach more than 50 per cent of the population of the UK in June (when Press Gazette's research took place).

"The fact The Mirror and The Mail both sourced four times as many stories from Sun content as we sourced from them over the sample period, is further indication of how ridiculous it would be to suggest The Sun produces less original content than our rivals."

The Independent

According to our analysis only 26 out of 100 stories published by The Independent on the morning of 21 June involved significant original journalism.

The Independent was the publisher in our survey most likely to publish articles apparently based on press releases. It also makes extensive use of content from newswires PA and AP, which is sent to all major publishers.

The Mirror

The Mirror published 40 non-original articles in our snapshot, with a further nine stories shared from other sites in the Reach network.

Like The Sun, it is most likely to source its non-original stories from Instagram. Seven of its stories came from press releases and four were sourced from rival title The Sun.

Mail Online

Some 51 out of 100 articles in our sample from Mail Online were designated as non-original. This represents a small proportion of the site's vast daily output.

Mail Online mainly sources its non-original content from a wide variety of other publishers, including four articles each from News UK's The Sun and Times in our snapshot.

Mail Online did not publish any straight-up SEO stories on the morning of our survey.

Manchester Evening News

The Manchester Evening News published 40 non-original articles out of 100 on the morning of our survey, with a further eight articles sourced from other publishers in the Reach network.

It published ten articles which appeared to be based on press releases and five sourced from TV shows.

The Guardian

The Guardian was the only major commercial UK news publisher to produce a clear majority of original content when we conducted our snapshot survey.

We judged that 16 out of 100 articles published on the morning of 21 June 2022 did not contain enough journalistic endeavour to pass the originality test.

Of the articles judged non-original: five came from press releases, five from various publications and three were picture galleries.

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson said: "The Guardian always places a high priority on producing rich and original journalism, with a range of in-depth, thoughtful and well-reported stories from across our UK and international newsrooms that readers around the world continue to come to us for."

Read more:

Top 50 newsbrands in the UK

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Picture: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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