- MST launches online “churn engine”
- Website will help the public distinguish between journalism and churnalism
- Visit churnalism.com
- Chris Atkins: When press releases masquerade as news stories – video (The Guardian)
Churnalism.com – an independent, non-profit website – is being launched by the Media Standards Trust today, Wednesday 23rd February. Churnalism.com has been built to help the public distinguish between original journalism and ‘churnalism’.
On churnalism.com you can:
- Compare a press release with over 3 million articles published by national newspaper websites, the BBC or Sky News since 2008
- See the percentage of a press release cut and pasted into news articles, and the number of characters that overlap
- See a press release side-by-side with an image of the article, showing which bits have been copied
- Search examples of “churn” saved by other people as well as collected automatically by churnalism.com
- Share examples of churn via Twitter and Facebook
Churnalism.com aims to raise public awareness about the amount of PR (public relations) material in the press. The site was inspired by Nick Davies’ book Flat Earth News, in which Davies reported that PR material now finds its way into 54% of news stories. Yet in most cases the connection between journalism and PR is hidden from the public. This is despite the opportunities that now exist to make the connection transparent.
“News organisations can now be much more transparent about the sources of their articles,” Martin Moore, Director of the Media Standards Trust said, “but most of them still aren’t. Hiding the connection between PR and news is not in the interests of the public. Hopefully churnalism.com will nudge them to be more open about their use of PR material.
“Even with press releases that are clearly in the public interest – medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures, and perhaps even this website launch – it is still better that articles are transparent about their sources.
“Maybe churnalism.com will also encourage more original journalism. Exposing unoriginal churn may help slow the steep decline in the amount of original reporting that we’ve seen in the last few years.”
How it works
The site compresses all articles published on national newspaper websites, on BBC News, and Sky News online, into a series of numbers based on 15 character strings (using a ‘hash function’) and then stores them in a fast access database. When someone pastes in some text and clicks ‘compare’, the ‘churn engine’ compresses the text entered and then searches for similar compressions (or ‘common hashes’). If the engine finds any articles where the similarity is greater than 20%, then it suggests the article may be churn. Churnalism.com is powered by the database of over three million compressed articles in journalisted.com – another online service provided by the Media Standards Trust.
Since most press releases are sent directly to news organisations and journalists without being published online, Churnalism.com relies on members of the public to find, paste in, and save original press releases on the site so that other people can see them too. The site is therefore geared towards creating a public resource connecting press releases with news articles.
Churnalism.com has already been programmed to collect and compare some press releases automatically, from a few notable public and private organisations including the government’s News Distribution Service, the NHS, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and others.
The site is run by the Media Standards Trust with funding from charitable foundations and donations. If you would like to discuss the site or require more technical details please contact Martin Moore, Director of the MST, on 0207 727 5252 or email@example.com.
To find out more about the Media Standards Trust visit www.mediastandardstrust.org.
Notes to editors:
The technology behind Churnalism.com was developed by Donovan Hide, with help from Ben Campbell. The site was conceived and developed by Martin Moore and Ben Campbell with support from Gavin Freeguard and Camilla Schick. Chris Atkins helped to raise awareness about the site. It was designed by Double Sided.
The Media Standards Trust is an independent registered charity (1113680) which fosters high standards in the news media on behalf of the public and public interest. It does this through a combination of research, debate and key initiatives.
Chaired by Sir David Bell (former Chair of the Financial Times), the Trust is governed by a board of trustees Board members include: Deputy Chair Julia Middleton (CEO, Common Purpose); Sir Cyril Chantler (Chairman, King’s Fund); Sir Robert Worcester (Founder, MORI); Robert Peston (Business Editor, BBC); William Davies (Saïd Business School, University of Oxford); Roger Graef (Films of Record); Baroness Helena Kennedy QC; The Right Reverend Stephen Platten (Bishop of Wakefield); Geraint Talfan Davies (Chair, Institute of Welsh Affairs); Anthony Salz (Executive Vice Chairman, Rothschild); Sue Stapely (solicitor, Quiller Consultants/Sue Stapely Consulting); Amelia Fawcett (Chairman, Pensions First; Chair, Guardian Media Group); Albert Scardino (journalist, editor); Sir Philip Otton (retired judge); Mary-Ellen Barker (Thomson Reuters); Charles Manby (Goldman Sachs); David Loyn (journalist, BBC).
The MST is funded by charitable donations from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Gatsby Foundation.
For more information, please contact Martin Moore, Director of the MST, on 0207 727 5252, or firstname.lastname@example.org.