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News Release Pickup You Don’t Want


Several months ago we posted to our website findings from an informal survey of a handful of Communications Network members about whether they used news releases.

The small study group indicated that they issued releases sparingly and limited them to announcing grants, as well as major new initiatives, big partnerships, new board and staff members, and significant organizational milestones.

Limiting the use of news releases might be a good thing, especially in light of an item in the British newspaper, The Guardian, that offers a cautionary tale.

The newspaper reports that a nonprofit has created a new website that’s meant to expose “the extent to which news articles have been directly copied from press releases, a practice the Media Standards Trust calls “churnalism.”

According to the Guardian:

The website, churnalism.com, 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.

You can even click a link that graphically shows how much of the printed article is a verbatim pick up of the contents of the news release. One example on the site shows that 82 percent of a published “news” item is material lifted directly from the news release.Martin Moore, director of the Media Trust, has no objection to organizations sending out press releases. His target seems to be lazy journalists.

As the Guardian notes:

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.

Moore feels his group is doing the public a service by helping to distinguish journalism from churnalism, which the website defines as a “news article closely based on a press release.”Because the churnalism site is limited to articles in the UK press and BBC, it’s probably not likely that any of the releases isssued by U.S. based foundations are going to be popping up.

But that’s today. With the attention the churnalism site is likely to attract, who knows how long it is before we’ll have a version here that checks the contents of news items in American news outlets?

–Bruce Trachtenberg

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