100 articles – ‘Churnalism: When press releases masquerade as news stories’

27 April 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘Churnalism: When press releases masquerade as news stories’ by Chris Atkins

The rise of ‘churnalism’ – articles that disguise themselves as news stories but are actually little more than re-written press releases – should be a worry for any modern journalist, as this short video from  The Guardian demonstrates. Filmmaker Chris Atkins creates a number of false PR scenarios and sells them on with surprising ease to the UK media. In one hilarious case, he creates the ‘Penazzle’, the male answer to the Vajazzle, and invents a fake PR company to spruik the weird ‘product’ to every national newspaper in the country. The next day it ran as a major story in the Sun, with 45 per cent of the content lifted straight from the press release.

The video doesn’t show the aftermath of the scenarios, which would have been interesting to see – did Atkins inform the papers of his actions? Were there any ramifications? – but it does highlight a growing problem in today’s media. Although press releases may be a valid source of information, the unattributed use of material and poor fact-checking are causes for concern. Financial pressures and deadlines may put more strain on media resources than ever, but journalists must resist lazy reporting.  It’s important to be immediate and interesting – but it’s critical that you’re also correct.

Renee Tibbs is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and is a former editor of upstart.

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