How PRs have taken over the media

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Here’s an interesting article from The Guardian about “churnalism”: News articles that are solely based on press releases from companies releasing a new product. The same can be applied to government press releases that are cut and pasted to become “news”.


Churnalism or news? How PRs have taken over the media

As press releases and hoax stories flood newsrooms, the Media Standards Trust has found a way to sift fact from fluff

A new website promises to shine a spotlight on “churnalism” by exposing the extent to which news articles have been directly copied from press releases.

The website, churnalism.com, created by charity the Media Standards Trust, allows readers to paste press releases into a “churn engine”. It then compares the text with a constantly updated database of more than 3m articles. The results, which give articles a “churn rating”, show the percentage of any given article that has been reproduced from publicity material.

The Guardian was given exclusive access to churnalism.com prior to launch. It revealed how all media organisations are at times simply republishing, verbatim, material sent to them by marketing companies and campaign groups.

Meanwhile, an independent film-maker, Chris Atkins, has revealed how he duped the BBC into running an entirely fictitious story about Downing Street’s new cat to coincide with the site’s launch.

The director created a Facebook page in the name of a fictitious character, “Tim Sutcliffe”, who claimed the cat – which came from Battersea Cats Home – had belonged to his aunt Margaret. The story appeared in the Daily Mail and Metro, before receiving a prominent slot on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Atkins, who was not involved in creating churnalism.com, uses spoof stories to highlight the failure of journalists to corroborate stories. He was behind an infamous prank last year that led to the BBC running a news package on a hoax Youtube video purporting to show urban foxhunters.

The creation of churnalism.com is likely to unnerve overworked journalists and the press officers who feed them. “People don’t realise how much churn they’re being fed every day,” said Martin Moore, director of the trust, which seeks to improve standards in news. “Hopefully this will be an eye-opener.”

Moore said he accepted journalists often have a valid reason for using press releases, and will often need to copy and paste significant chunks, such as official statements and quotes. But he said that on many occasions reporters appear to be lifting press release text verbatim and adding little or no additional material.

In a typical example, the Express, Mirror and Sun all lifted of chunks of text from a press release last month on behalf of the Benenden Healthcare Society, which quoted a poll showing “British women spend more money on their looks than their health”. The Daily Mail copied 98% of the text directly from the press release. Similarly, the Mirror, Mail and Express all reproduced chunks from a press release by campaign group Migration Watch, criticising immigration rates under the previous Labour government. However, the Times made the greatest use of it, running an article that was 53% cut-and-pasted press release.

Other broadsheets, including the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph, are also shown to be “churning” press releases to varying degrees.

Interestingly, all media outlets appear particularly susceptible to PR material disseminated by supermarkets: the Mail appears to have a particular appetite for publicity from Asda and Tesco, while the Guardian favours Waitrose releases.

Moore said one unexpected discovery has been that the BBC news website appears particularly prone to churning publicity material.

“Part of the reason is presumably because they feel a duty to put out so many government pronouncements,” Moore said. “But the BBC also has a lot to produce in regions that the newspapers don’t cover.”

It was after a discussion with Moore that Atkins decided to spend last week seeding fictitious stories through the media. Atkins, who was the film-maker behind Starsuckers (a documentary that duped the tabloid press in 2009 with hoax stories), has planted a range of bizarre press releases across the media.

One involved the marketing of the “penazzle”, supposedly the male answer to the female beauty trend in crystal designs known as “vajazzles”, which appeared in the Sun and in a column by Guardian writer Suzanne Moore.

Another fake story about a “chastity garter”, which contains a text message-sending microchip to alert a woman’s partner if she is being unfaithful, became the “most read” story on the Daily Mail’s website. It was then reproduced by media outlets across the world, including morning TV news in the United States.

But it was Atkins’s bogus Facebook campaign calling for the return of the prime minister’s new cat, Larry, that has been most successful. Within 24 hours of the site having been created, the Mail ran the story under the heading: “But that’s my auntie’s cat: Man’s claim on ‘stray’ No 10 ratcatcher (… and there’s a Facebook campaign to get him back).” It also appeared in the Metro, under the heading: “Dear David Cameron: You’ve stolen my aunt’s cat, please return him.”

But the entirely made up story received most attention on Gaby Logan’s BBC 5 Live show, in a light-hearted slot before the 1 o’clock news.. Discussing the story with chief political correspondent John Pienaar, Logan joked that the dispute over ownership of Larry the Downing Street cat was likely to “run and run”.

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37 Comments on "How PRs have taken over the media"

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in what i can see an industry is with print sales declining and trouble for an extramile in claryfying that the information we get from the media is authentic and not some cook up story to cover thier plan and also thier will be new means of brand communicating starndards for the economy to grow

The long and short of the article is that we should go an extra mile in clarifying that the information we get from the media is authentic and not some cook up story.

Don't hate the player, hate the game! 😉

In all seriousness though, journalism is a contracting industry as news organisations try to keep costs down, with print sales declining and the internet offering news for free – PRs are filling the gap. Trouble is, it's not conducive to good journalism. Not that I've got the solution or anything!

This has been around for years, its the only way that brands can get new products out there it record breaking time. Magazines and newspapers don't have the time to review up coming brands and tend to stick reviewing more established brands, so when the PR companies send out press releases for establishing brand, they tend to turn up their noses if it isnt dior, gucci, nike or someother company that is celebrity endorsed, so the PRs now send them out to smaller publications and blogs who tend to be doing posts as a hobby and not a main job. YES sometimes it tends to get copied and paste into a post. Mostly bloggers use this method as PRs mostly target them for advertising. There is nothing wrong with it, if it is used to actually promote a product. These days companies can't afford advertising especially in the UK with… Read more »

All news sources are a joke. Sort it out for yourself, and come to sites like these to find the truth. A lot of you here, thru your comments, have really helped me decipher the real from the "phony baloney"

great name, lol, its so true

press releases as news happen for one basic reason – cost effectiveness. the editors and sub editors of old no longer exist in the sense of numbers of staff doing their editing or writing journalism as we understand news media. news media has become more of a product than an information conveyor. so less staff – less money to payroll journalists to do their jobs , never mind expenses, and voila' a press release is viewed as free content ergo it becomes news. fairfax australia a couple of years ago tried to get freelance journalists to sign an exclusive to write for them but did not offer a full time salary or work commitment. magazine editors use digital snapshots that they or someone on staff take instead of hiring professional photographers. so quality of news and quality of images is de professionalised. over time everyone gets used to this state… Read more »

The Onion News Network is more reliable than any other news outlet I know of. I mean, its been around since 1856…so naturally they're superior.

and now I know since you tried to discredit the outlet for the story surrounding Goldman Sachs (not the f*****g Daily Bail) that you are most likely a tool in the most literal sense. oh well, we will move forward without you.

The media has got increasingly worse in the last decade. Newspapers which used to be respected and factual have become little better than the tabloids. It's all gossip, innuendo and spin. And so many people just drink it all up because they're so obsessed by celebrity. Nobody splits the fact from the fiction.

The media has a huge influence over this world, it can make or break careers. Ever wonder how GaGa got so popular so fast. Suddenly every magazine is talking about Willow Smith, Jessie J etc

All in it together.

Off Topic: They say that if the Illuminati were to make an initiation video, it may look a little like this. ILLUMICORP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MvDGEeP1xc

spooky how real it is.

i just watched that video on youtube,EVERYBODY on VC needs to go watch that,

is that a real video or did someone actually create it as an example?

Sometimes when one works for a corporation, that person gets caught up in the glam of that corporation. These "journalists" see another journalist promoted and celebrated for bringing stories that are celebrity gossip to light. So what happens? The rest follow suit because upper management has demonstrated to the rest of the journalists that this is how you get ahead: to be sleezy, to get information at all costs, to delve into the private lives of others. So in a way, it's like they corrupt themselves because if they want to keep their jobs, they have to report what is deemed "news".

Just my opinion

~A Chic Named Slickback

What's scary is how lazy and unethical journalists have become. They're supposed to be the 4th estate: the watchers keeping an eye on the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. That's a joke now. Alot of journalists would be happy to report that their mothers are w****s as long as somebody cut them a nice check. Even "real" journalists have a hard time getting their story ideas through the phalanx of flunkies who work for TPTB. I interned at a CBS affiliate and those editorial meetings were frustrating torture. Everything the news director wanted was either fluff or propaganda. Sometimes the reporters and producers would walk out in frustration.

Just read your post and I agree with you. What is sad is that few support alternative news sources. And when an alternative source becomes famous, the elite try to bring it down. (See Wikileaks)

~A Chic Named Slickback

This is not surprising. Seems like everything is a lie. They learned all that stuff in college, how to stretch stories, steal stories, and how to make up stories. This is madness what's going to happen next?

Actually, I studied journalism in college and honestly, that isn't what we were taught. The exact opposite, in fact. But once we got out into the real world, it was a different story. College didn't prepare us for the corruption, the cynicism, the lack of ethics–and the rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Weird how so many of the producers and reporters had…ahem…habits.

@ Ralphster

Dont make excusses for them, they are terrible and are part of the problem. We are understaffed at my work as well but we still do the job right.

You're right. They are not overworked. They are lazy yes-men/women that do anything for a dollar. They are propaganda pushers. I realized the PR crap a long time ago. It's been obvious for a while now and I'm just glad somebody exposed it for what it is. The sad thing is how the public buy into it so easily. Integrity in journalism went out of style decades ago.

Sorry, not sure why this comment came up twice???
Sorry- I was replying to the comment on –
People buy into it-

I was 'buying it ' for years. Loved the news like the person's grandmother comment above . I still watch tv, movies, and read a lot. Just with a different view, disbelief or add in my own 'real knowledge ' to their stories. After watching the video on trusting the media (where the reporter reports on the riot – last article here)- I can't watch any of the news without laughing. It is very serious. I really didn't realize how 'bad' the lying is. Wow. Not exaggerating the truth, flat bold lies. Who exactly tells these reporters to say this? And why do they? Where do I get real honest news? This site is monitored too. A person left me a comment on how to spread some truth, what could little 'ol me do, etc. .. he answered good ideas. .. But, it was mysteriously deleted. Nothing or no-one seems… Read more »

Part of the problem is that so many news orgs have pared down staff so much to save costs that they don't have the manpower to fact check every press release – it's cheaper to print a retraction than to make some calls up front. They also run them for free content rather than doing some real reporting.

wow

News has reached a all time low no one report good news any more when i was growing up i use to walk to the corner store to get my grandmother a news paper. that was one of her many ways of staying connected with the growing world that surrouned her. Bottmon line its all about the money, this world is so money driven to the fact that we have very little news we can count on, net another one of our freedom being takens way.That why i forcus more on the words of God and study daily on his word .www.churchofchrist.org

Thanks VC for being one of the news outlet we can count on for real news!

Highly recommend Starsuckers for anyone who hasnt already seen it – its a big eye opener

I recommend watching Starsuckers on youtube. It deals with fake news stories as well as how our attraction to fame/ celebrity is used against us. It's a fascinating (and frightening!) documentary.

Starsuckers Trailer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH6VqnHS_3I

That's why I don't read newspapers or watch TV

Yeah exactly jimmy.

We need to guard our senses as if our existence depends on it…b/c it actually does! This is why meditation is so important – it quiets the senses and stops the flow of sensory intakes. It's basically like stopping time.

Try going a week without ANY radio, television, or media all together.

You may get in touch with 'someone' who hasn't been able to talk to u in a while 😉

This is beyond absurd!!!

i agree.

Read a book people. We can avoid about 90% of this crap that keeps getting stuffed down our throats.

Why should I read when there are books on tape? (Kidding) That just seems to be most people's mentality. Suggest something simple, they always want to find an 'easier' way. Or a more self-gratifying way- and for many- thinking is not self-gratifying.

Or why read at all, right? It scares me every year when they publish the significant percentage of Americans who did not read a single book in the prior year.

I don't really know why, but I have always had a high comprehension of vocabulary. People say to me frequently "Wow, you must read a lot!" and I have to reply with "I have read fewer than 10 books in their entirely my whole life" I have always hated to read. I learn by sound and touch, so reading was a "waste of time" to me. Now that I am older, I appreciate it so much more, with the booming of technology and whatnot. I've always known it is best to stay rooted in knowledge, but reading wasn't ever my thing. So (one of many of) my resolutions for 2011 is to read more. So, yes, it is surprising how few people in my generation or the current one growing up read. I know a lot of people my age (early 20s) who cannot spell or read well- I was… Read more »

If you want a good read on, well, reading then pick up "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein. He corroborates everything on this website. And blames this digital revolution on the dumbing down of the under-30 generation. Best. Book. Ever. Good read.

Thank you, my friend, I shall. That is right up my alley!

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