Spinning Privatisation – Churnalism in Action

spinningIn yesterday’s Metro (6th June 2013)  we were greeted with the good news story of  150 million euro to be spent on roads and schools with no less than ’50 million to be spent on 18 primary and post primary schools affecting 12,000 students’. This is all good news no? Well no, this  is a casebook example  of ‘Churnalism’, the name given to the journalistic practice where a newspaper or journalist rehashes a  press release or wire story without critique.  In the story we have lots of detail on where the money will be spent, information that was unlikely garnered by the journalist but rather supplied by a department press release or communique.  In the article there is no critique of the information, no questions asked and the story is framed or spun exactly as wished by the original source, and most importantly in terms of media ‘pluralism’ no other points of view are added.  A quick google search finds  the Leitrim Observer covers the same story almost word for word here on the 7th of June and the Independent  here on the 5th of June. Neither of these newspapers question any aspect of the story, nor include any other point of view, but at least they (unlike the Metro) attribute the story to the Press Association rather than a journalist.

So what is missing from the story? How about some  variant points of view? There are plenty of people and organisations who think that privatisation in itself is a bad idea; or how about investigating how much annual revenue is being lost by the sale of these assets; or what  the final cost to the consumer is likely to be? Is this a case of killing the golden goose for some road repairs? Did the journalist think to ask any of these very obvious questions, in fact one wonders did  the journalist think to make a phone call never mind leave her desk?

Of course deskbound overworked journalists on precarious, short term, and badly paid contracts (as is becoming the the norm), are less likely to  challenge either production practice or editorial positions and may not have time to do real research. Moreover  information on the internet from blogs and other news sources are much more easily accessed compared to walking the ‘beat’ or even making phonecalls. And of course the worsening conditions in journalism make a career in public relations all the more attractive which has negative consequences in itself.

We are “churning” stories today, not writing them. Almost everything is recycled from another source […]. It wouldn’t be possible to write so many stories otherwise. Yet even more is expected, filing to online outlets is now considered to be part of the job. Specialist writing is much easier because the work is done by agencies and/or writers of press releases. Actually knowing enough to identify stories is no longer important. The work has been deskilled, as well as being greatly amplified in volume, if not in quality.
(Nigel Hawkes, Health Editor, The Times)

(Quote taken from a study on news making in the UK by Cardiff University which can be found here)

This continued growth of this type news story is important as it shows while journalist practice and tighter working schedules leaves  journalists tied to their desks and under more deadline pressure; it gives even more information power to ‘news makers’ such as public relations companies, official sources and think tanks. In other words it  continues to give those with power and wealth  greater access to media and therefore public consciousness.


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