The next time someone sneers at blogs as being sub-standard in some way to ‘real journalism’, try quoting them this passage from the Media Lens review of Guardian journalist Nick Davies’ interesting (I could use the word disturbing, but I won’t) new book Flat Earth News. Blogging is far from perfect, especially when it tries too hard to ape the mainstream media, but at least it holds out some distant hope for a new approach to the news and information process. Ah well…churnalists indeed!
‘In the Guardian, he described how he commissioned research which surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. 80% of the stories were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry. They also found that facts had been thoroughly checked in only 12% of the stories. Davies commented:
“The implication of those two findings is truly alarming. Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda.” (Davies, ‘Our media have become mass producers of distortion,’ The Guardian, February 4, 2008)
The researchers found that the average Fleet Street journalist is now filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985: “Generally, they don’t find their own stories, or check their content, because they simply don’t have the time.”
In his book, Davies emphasises that journalists “are no longer out 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)
This is what Davies calls “churnalism” – this is his central focus. Writing in the Guardian, Peter Wilby indicated the basic sound bite used to summarise the Flat Earth News thesis:
“The main reason why you read so little decent journalism, he argues, is simple: hacks don’t have time to do it.”