‘Churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added.
The Sunlight Foundation and the Media Standards Trust launched Churnalism US, “a new web tool and browser extension that allows anyone to compare the news you read against existing content to uncover possible instances of plagiarism” (churned from their blog post).
The new tool is inspired by the UK site “churnalism.com” (a project of the Media Standards Trust). According to the FAQ of Churnalism.com:
‘Churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added. In his landmark book, Flat Earth News, Nick Davies wrote how ‘churnalism’ is produced by “Journalists who are no longer gathering news but are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false” (p.59).
According to the Cardiff University research that informed Davies’ book, 54% of news articles have some form of PR in them. The word ‘churnalism’ has been attributed to BBC journalist Waseem Zakir.
“Of course not all churnalism is bad. Some press releases are clearly in the public interest (medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures and so on). But even in these cases, it is better that people should know what press release the article is based on than for the source of the article to remain hidden.”
In a detailed blog post, Drew Vogel, a developer on Churnalism US, explains the nuts and bolts behind the site, which is fueled by a full-text search database named SuperFastMatch.
Kaitlin Devine, another developer on Churnalism, provides a two-minute tutorial on how Churnalism US works: