‘Churnalism‘ is the repackaging of material by journalists due to a lack of time and resources as described by Nick Davis in his controversial 2009 book Flat Earth News.
Davis basis his research on a study conducted by Jomec and funded by the Rowntree Trust called ‘The Quality and Independence of British Journalism’. He believes this study highlights the apparent decline in British journalism and how journalism has now become “falsehood, distortion and propaganda”.
Davis believes some of the main pressures come from the co-operations who set regulations and tight deadlines. This combined with skeletal staff, resource cuts and strict writing guidelines lead to reporters being reduced to ‘churnalism‘.
Davis also believes new websites are partly to blame as “the possibility of filing their stories immediately has become an imperative to spend even less time on their work”. The rise of new commercial news media enabled by new technologies such as round-the-clock TV news channels and the internet have increased the need for stories and therefore reduced the time. Davis does believe, however, that the internet could stop ‘churnalism‘ by slashing the cost of production and reversing the process as owners have more money to spend on employment and resources. Improvements in technology have brought stories to the journalists faster and easier and provided them with more information, however, it has now caused some institutions to take advantage of this, reducing staff and therefore limiting journalists time to check and even leave the office to attend the event.
Chris Atkins who made the 2009 documentary Starsuckers agrees with Davis about journalisms growing reliance on the PR industry and how little of what is put in the media is checked. A memorable part of the documentary when Chris Atkins and his friends decide to create a story about fox hunters in the midst of a fox media craze. They filmed themselves hunting down a fox, which was actually a dog dressed as a fox, and pretended to kill it. The film was taken seriously by the media and was published by several big media institutions. It is arguable thought that Chris Atkins went into this with a clear objective to expose how unpleasant the journalism industry can be. As a film maker with no real inside knowledge of the journalism industry he offers a very biased and pessimistic view.
Davis is also forgetting that there never was this golden age of the media. That journalists have always relied on other sources and have always had deadlines and media law restricting what they publish. Professor of Journalism and media studies at the University of Groningen, Marcel Broersma, says ”Davis overestimates journalists role and responsibilities and often assumes that they make inaccuracies on purpose”. He continues that most journalists sincerely try to present an accurate version of current events but the majority of the time journalists are not at events as they happen and so they rely on sources whose trustworthiness could be questionable. No unlimited amounts of time or resources could change this.
Alternative forms of media such as co-op newspapers in which the staff own the newspaper could be the answer to these problems. Journalists practising alternative journalism believe they have “gained a set of skills that differ to an extent from those of journalists who have entered journalism through more mainstream routes” as journalist Tony Harcup describes following interviews he conducted with a number of alternative journalists. The move from mainstream to alternative is also not one way and the fact that the journalists often go back into mainstream journalism and are continuing to use alternative styles in mainstream practice shows that mainstream media is not be totally discredited.
Journalism continues to survive, grow and evolve with technology and is still thriving. ‘Churnalism’ is very real but journalism is not falling into a black hole if we continue to look and practice viable solutions.