Reading PR Week’s piece today about churnalism, I’m left wondering I’m missing something very important? According to PR Week, senior PR professionals are worried that Churnalism.com “is threatening to undermine the PR profession.”
I have to take my hat off to the Media Standards Trust for creating Churnalism.com and getting a lot of people talking about it, but to me it doesn’t represent a risk to the profession, or imply anything we didn’t already know about how PRs and journalists interact.
Essentially Churnalism.com invites users to enter some text and then correlates it with coverage in national newspapers and the BBC (it’s a shame that it doesn’t include all news sites) to show how much was cut and pasted – ie churned.
I tested the site out earlier, plugging in press releases taken from PR Newswire (zero results) and a couple of popular survey stories (again, no results) and even tried to find that Ginsters survey story (the one that showed that women make all decisions in the household) that cleaned up in the media, but I couldn’t find the original release.
So, looking at some pre-prepared examples on the site, you can see what they’re trying to get at. It’s just a shame that I could repeat that. Maybe churnalism isn’t that bad after all? Or perhaps the average release on PR Newswire just isn’t that news worthy?
So, if anything, it highlights the opposite, that press releases just aren’t being written well enough. I was taught at the beginning of my career that the perfect press release was one that walked in without being changed. OK, my views have changed a bit since then – it’s a more complex relationship than that. And with social media our attitudes to news have evolved a bit too (funny how bloggers never seen to churn releases though), but the principle still applies: not writing a piece of puff that resembles ad copy more than a news story.
And with journalists under more pressure than ever to turn copy around quickly with less manpower, the need for good quality press releases is greater than ever.
So, I’m pretty relaxed about churnalism. It’s a bit of fun, but I don’t think anyone in PR or journalism is under illusions that text from press releases sometimes appears in print/online.
Update – 13 March 2011 – The helpful people at Churnalism have been in touch to show me the location of the Ginsters story. According to the site, the Daily Mail cut 82% of the story and pasted 98%. As I said before, it’d be interesting to see this across other media, such as trade publications, blogs and local news.