For those of you unfamiliar with the rather snappy little term ‘churnalism’, it refers to the modern practice by journalists of re-using pre-packaged stories, generally from press releases or news wires. It stems from a perceived need, in our age of round-the-clock news, for publications to be completely up to date with all the latest stories, and all on the cheap. It has been estimated that even in the quality press here in Britain, as many as 80% of stories are not original, and that only 12% of stories are generated by reporters.
It might come as no surprise, therefore, to learn that our local papers here in NW6 are practising these same methods. I can’t help but be disappointed, however, as local papers are not in direct competition with the quality dailies. In fact, here in NW6, they’re barely even in direct competition with each-other; the Hampstead & Highgate Express, the Kilburn Times and the Camden Gazette are all owned by the Archant media group and run out of the same Swiss Cottage offices.
On 3 March, I read a story on the To the Commons blog about how Tamsin Omond had stood up to some kids sitting at the back of the bus who were disturbing fellow passengers with their mobile phone-produced music. She had asked fellow passengers to raise their hands if they felt action should be taken. They did, and it was. A small victory for Tamsin and for community-led initiatives. Also a blatant piece of PR, reported as it was on the blog of the political party for which Tamsin is the only parliamentary candidate. So when I read an online article published by the Camden Gazette on 16 March, almost two weeks later, reporting this story under the headline ‘Tamsin makes a stand for peace on the buses’ I was a little disappointed, to say the least.
That was nothing, however, compared to how I felt this morning (19 March) when I read a newly published article on the Kilburn Times website with the headline, ‘Silence is golden for Tamsin’. The same story, with the quotes directly lifted from the original To the Commons blog post, only now a full 16 days after the event.
Whilst I understand, if not approve of churnalistic tendencies, I feel that the point should at least be to keep consumers up to date with the latest breaking news. Copying and pasting pieces of PR, two weeks late, strikes me as plain lazy. The papers named (and shamed) above do contain plenty of excellent articles of local interest. I just wish they’d leave out the churno-padding.