Category Archives: Churnalism

‘obtained from a news agency in good faith’

From the Press Complaints Commission’s ‘resolved’ case list today:

Jennifer Stevenson complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper’s coverage of a fatal horse riding accident was inaccurate. The complainant was among the first people at the scene and, contrary to what had been reported, there was no indication that the rider’s injuries were the result of becoming impaled on a fence post. The complainant was particularly concerned as her teenage daughter had also witnessed the aftermath of the incident and, in her view, the piece was both sensationalist and upsetting for her and members of the deceased’s family (who had given their consent for the complainant to pursue the matter on their behalf).

The Daily Mail response:

The newspaper accepted that there were inaccuracies in the copy which was obtained from a news agency in good faith.

As usual though, this is not the whole story, as the PCC make clear:

The complainant felt strongly that newspaper should have taken greater care when relying on agency copy and could have acted quicker to address the concerns raised.

The complainant probably did not realise until now that this is standard practice for newspapers, simply taking news agency copy at face value. As for the complaint that the Daily Mail could have acted quicker, this is a common complaint against a newspaper that does as much as possible to avoid taking any kind of responsibility for its actions. The resolution continues:

She asked that a correction appear at the start of the online article and rejected the newspaper’s explanation that its house style would not allow for this.

Again, the Mail Online is notorious for burying corrections in its US section and they always insist on putting corrections at the end of their articles. This is only an ‘house style’ issue inasmuch as it is standard practice to bury any truth at the bottom of a Mail article. In the end the persistence of the complainant led to the following actions:

it republished the corrected article with the complainant’s comments included in the readers’ comments section; it provided private letters of apology for the complainant and members of the deceased’s family; it removed the phrase “freak accident” from the headline and URL; and it appended a correction and apology to the online piece.

The original article appeared on the Mail Website on the 5th June 2011. It has taken nearly four months for the Daily Mail to acknowledge that it made distressing mistakes that sensationalised a tragic accident. It has obviously taken a lot of persistence and effort from the complainant to pursue the complaint to this ‘resolution’, a resolution that could have been arrived at as soon as the Daily Mail realised the agency copy was inaccurate – why not simply correct the article and add the apology immediately? However, they stalled, ignored or flat out refused to do the decent thing even though they were so clearly in the wrong.

To further compound matters the PCC have once again demonstrated – through the back-and-forth gentle requests sent to the Mail and forwarded back to the complainant – that their slogan – ‘Free, fast, fair’ – is as sick a joke as the industry it supposedly regulates.

Daily Mail stealing photos again

The Mail Online has covered a story about a Great White shark in San Diego swimming near surfers [FreezePage link]. The story includes 6 photographs and it seems as if the Mail Online has been guilty of using the photographs without seeking the permission of the person who took them. Luckily the photographer happened to see that the Mail had used his photos and he even managed to get a comment through [click here for full size version]:

Interesting that he notes other news agents seemed concerned with making sure the photos were genuine before running them, something that I suppose the Mail Online doesn’t need to do when all they are doing is churnalising the story from other sources.


Big hat tip to @jeffpickthall for giving me this information.

Daily Mail still stealing online content

So, yesterday the Daily Mail shuts down istyosty.com for copyright infringement whilst claiming that they were entitled to recover all of the – in the words of the lawyers representing Associated Newspapers – ‘ill-gotten profits’ made by istyosty.com as a result of caching Mail Online articles.

As usual, the Daily Mail is being deeply hypocritical and relying – once more – on simply bullying the opposition with expensive lawyers because the Daily Mail have a deserved reputation for stealing online content without any attempt at payment or attribution. You see, the Daily Mail can always find money for expensive lawyers, but they cannot find money to pay others for the use of their content; in the same way that they can moan that istyosty.com have stolen precious web hits yet when they steal stories from websites they don’t even have the courtesy to provide a weblink. The Mail is happy to apply the dark arts to steal online content, but is not prepared to engage in any form of standard web etiquette.

A brilliant example was pointed out in the comments on this blog last night because the Daily Mail got into touch with a blogger who had taken a photo of a fashion store with a mannequin with should-probably-be-dead thin legs and pointed out that this was another example of the unrealistic body image being sold to women. The Daily Mail asked if they could use the photos, the blogger said yes, but only if the Daily Mail would pay £250 to a charity of the blogger’s choice. The Daily Mail claimed that they could not afford to pay that kind of fee and when the blogger responded that in that case they could not use the image the Mail replied to acknowledge that fact.

The Mail Online then went ahead and lifted the story and pictures anyway, and even had the cheek to make it look as if the blogger had given the story and their thoughts to the Mail (kind of a Hari moment). I can only hope that the blogger pursues the Mail for payment or copyright infringement with as much vigour as the Mail does. I can recommend you have a read through the comments on that blog as well because people are linking to many other examples of the Mail blatantly and unapologetically stealing online content.


This was brought to my attention and covered by onlythatinyou, visit their blog for more.

Press reform: the challenge of addiction

It’s becoming increasingly clear that a substantial section of our press is no longer serving to report the news, but rather functions as a full-blown arm of the entertainment industry. Accuracy, journalistic integrity and moral decency have been replaced by the overwhelming desire to sell as many newspapers and as much advertising space in those newspapers as possible. Whilst it could be argued that printing and selling newspapers has always been about the bottom line, Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News makes a convincing argument that the bottom line used to go hand in hand (at least most of the time) with the basic tenets of journalism.

Perhaps the main driver for moving away from the traditional concept of what a newspaper is (you could easily argue that the name no longer accurately describes what is still known as a ‘newspaper’) is the slow decline in sales caused in part by the Internet, but also by Television and in particular the notion of 24-hour rolling news channels. People can dip in and out of news at their own convenience on their smartphones – with the freedom to choose from any supplier (except, perhaps, The Times which has moved behind a paywall). People don’t need to subscribe to newspapers anymore and the freedom to pick articles from different newspaper websites destroys the idea of traditional brand loyalty, or the expectation that we have to choose the one newspaper that best matches our own outlook.

In Flat Earth News Davies charts the downfall of real journalism as newspaper owners dealt with declining revenues by cutting staff and reducing money spent on investigative journalism. All of this could be easily replaced by making the remaining journalists produce more copy – gleaned largely from Wire services or simply re-written from other news sources. As the numbers of journalists declined so the the workload of those remaining increased until very often bylines indicated little more than who had copy-and-pasted a Press Release or straight copy from a wire service – without checks with regards to accuracy. Thus the notion of churnalism was born.

But this wasn’t the only consequence of declining revenues. Another significant consequence was the change in the product itself. News was no longer the exclusive domain of the newspaper. People could get it quicker, brighter and louder through their TV, radio or picked up on their PCs or smartphones via a social networking site or via the newspaper websites themselves. By the time the newspaper is printed it is already old: it is telling people very little they don’t already know. This meant that the newspaper had to change the nature of the what they did. They became not the breakers or news, but the masters of news commentary (or spin, as it is better known).

Newspapers became concerned far more with opinion – rather than tell us the news they thought they would tell what to think of the news that we had already heard about. Newspapers have abandoned any subtle pretence of neutrality in favour of essentially becoming one giant editorial. People choose newspapers as a filter, they pick the one that bests skewers the news around them to fit their own prejudices. It is, essentially, a slightly more adult way of putting your fingers in your eyes and screaming ‘la-la-la I can’t hear you’ to the rest of the news world.

The final consequence of the new business model is that any money spent by a given newspaper / editor must generate tangible profits for the newspaper. This means that given the choice between spending £3,000 on sending a journalist to a location for what could possibly be an important, newsworthy story (the kind of journalism the press always like to talk about when they tell us how important it is for them to have absolute freedom because they are out there, being journalists to act as a check and balance to the rich and powerful etc) and spending £3,000 buying a photo of Hugh Grant broken down in his car the editor will spend the £3,000 on the Hugh Grant picture every time. Celebrity drivel sells.

It’s expensive, but cheap at the same time. Whilst it might cost a fair bit for paparazzi photos of celebrity-x frolicking on the beach, the price is fixed and clear – all the time, equipment, plane tickets and incidental expenses etc have already been dealt with by the individual pap – the pap takes on the risk and the newspaper gets a guaranteed story for a fixed price.

This is where the addiction begins.

The evidence suggests that reporting on celebrities doing even the most inane things (going to the gym, washing hair, putting out bins, leaving home, arriving home, eating out, looking fat, looking thin, wearing clothes, wearing clothes they have worn before, walking their dogs, leaving a night club and generally doing anything at all that can be photographed) is big business. Sadly, there is a market for this drivel and it is growing. You only have to look at the massive growth the Daily Mail website has enjoyed – which is largely driven by celebrity stories and American web traffic. The Mail have even set up offices in LA to maximise the celebrity crap they can churn out.

Celebrity drivel is the new business plan for a lot of newspapers (like the Daily Star trying to shoehorn Jordan onto the front page of every edition with ever more elaborate inventions or their amazing run of front pages about Ryan Giggs) and it is becoming an addiction for both editors and readers alike. The editors need the sales that celebrity drivel can generate, and it seems enough of the public need celebrity to drivel to fill some kind of vacuum in their obviously meaningless and shallow existences.

Call me a snob if you want, but I kind of find it pretty depressing that the Mail website is currently running this story: ‘Kate Middleton: We’ve seen that dress before, Kate…on Sarah Jessica Parker in 2006!’. It is depressing thinking that a lot of people will probably be quite excited by this news story, or at least interested enough to click and have a look. It is even more depressing to think that at some point in the construction of this story someone who had perhaps wanted to be a journalist had somehow found themselves going through reams of images to find this obscure match and then having to write an article around these two pictures.

But all of this is irrelevant. All that matters is that this stuff does generate page views and shifts newspapers. Editors generally don’t print want no-one wants to read.

So here we are, trapped in a mutual addiction. The drive of newspapers to out-dig and out-titillate TV news led to phone-hacking becoming a standard technique and although it may have originally intended to be used for good it was soon being used to track the relationships of celebrities and eventually to eavesdrop on the grief of families (allegedly) and even to obstruct the Police in their investigations.

Bad journalism isn’t neatly isolated into pockets that we can cut out, it is rather a systematic product of an addictive pattern of selling us what isn’t actually any good for us. The press have become no better than a drug dealer, selling us cheap highs, quick fixes, dishonest scares and above all celebrity gossip. We know it’s bad for us, we know we should be doing something more worthwhile with our lives, but like any addiction it is hard to tear ourselves away from turning the same old pages for the same old content.

It’s just like the food industry packing everything with sugar, making us crave more and more of it as we encounter it in more and more products. If a food company now tried to market a healthy alternative to this they’re stuffed because everyone is addicted to products stuffed with sugar. We know such products are bad for us, but we buy them all the same. To rid ourselves of any addiction takes a lot of willpower, and it also takes a brave producer to try to sell us a product that they can only sell to those of us who want to go cold turkey.

Sadly, the reality of business dicates that an alternative product will only be offered once the original product is abandoned by the consumer. So, the question is, therefore: are we ready to give up the newspapers we currently happily consume?

To churn, or not to churn

Earlier in the week Ginsters – famous for pasties and pies – decided to get some cheap advertising by conducting a poll using Onepoll.com that they knew would appeal to the Churnalists out there. Naturally the poll is referred to in sombre tomes as a ‘study’ and it just happens to confirm the sort of misogynistic drivel that makes your average tabloid editor very happy:

Three quarters of all important household decisions are made by women, a study found yesterday.

I won’t bother you with any further details – it’s just a typical poll ‘finding’ that ‘confirms’ a few lazy stereotypes about women being the ones with the real power etc – but I’ll just focus on the fact that it worked. The Daily Mail managed a spectacular 83% cut, 98% pasted with 2499 characters overlapping; whilst the Daily Express worked really hard, cutting just 61% and pasting just 60%.

Another successful result for Onepoll.com (who I appear to be essentially but unintentionally plugging here – but do visit them as a one-stop-shop for all your churnalism needs) and another happy client, getting press coverage for a fraction of the cost. However, Onepoll are not always successful. If they take the round side of a gender issue, then the papers won’t go near their CTRL-V keys. Austin Reed followed up the Ginster poll with another ‘revealing’ gender poll:

It’s official – men are better at shopping than women, it emerged yesterday (Weds).

Research has revealed that even though they shop more frequently, women are more likely to come home empty-handed having failed to find what they were looking for…

And when it comes to updating their wardrobe men like to spend MORE on clothes than women.

Note how this poll is also referred to as ‘research’ and a ‘study’ which seems a bit of a glorification. Regardless, the result doesn’t suit the media narrative about women and shopping and it has yet to be churned by any newspaper. I guess there are some filters applied to churnalism after all.

Will churnalism.com change the way press releases are issued?

I’m sure if you follow me on Twitter you will have already heard lots about the new website churnalism.com and how fantastic it is. Basically, if you can get hold of a Press Release you can copy and paste into the churnalism.com engine and it will trawl news article from 2007 to see if it can identify which news articles have copied and pasted chunks of the press release into their copy. Having played with the website yesterday I can see that this is an incredibly powerful tool to highlight just how much ‘news’ is actually PR guff thoughtlessly injected straight into copy as if it were journalism. In one example yesterday I found a PR that had been copied virtually word-for-word by the Daily Telegraph, as well as another example from the Daily Mail.

What also became apparent from browsing the site was that one website is currently dominating proceedings when it comes to feeding lazy hacks PR drivel: onepoll.com. This company provides an online survey service which seems to work as follows:

  1. Company signs up for an account
  2. Company creates a questionnaire / poll
  3. People fill it in (they are paid a small amount to do so)
  4. Onepoll.com publishes a press release on their website regarding findings
  5. Lazy journalists copy and paste PR and pass it off as news

It’s good business, terrible journalism. However, thanks to onepoll offering open access to the press releases it is extremely easy to see just how many newspapers are happy to copy-and-paste (sometimes word-for-word like the Telegraph above) the results of polls commissioned by companies to get free publicity.

However, I do not see this lasting. I think churnalism.com will result in such material being pulled from the public domain and instead issued only to subscribers – i.e. newspapers – making it harder for the public to identify what is and isn’t PR – or how much has been taken word-for-word. Right now it is still fairly easy to find press releases and identify churnalism, in the future I can see it becoming much harder as companies contact their favourite newspapers directly – as I’m sure already happens – and refrain from publishing such releases on their websites. In may become necessary for newspapers – so reliant is their business model on copy-and-paste PR guff being passed off as news – to insist upon it.

For more examples of churnalism see Five Chinese Crackers.

Jumping to conclusions…

The Mail wasn’t alone in blaming ‘yobs’ for a ‘sick prank’, but I’m too busy to round up just how many news outlets churnalised this story so I’ll just focus on the Mail’s coverage:

Pink cat and yobs

Followed up by this, just two days later:

Pink Cat

The Daily Mail is quick to point out that it was the RSPCA that had jumped to conclusions:

A nationwide appeal was launched to find the person responsible for dyeing her white fur, with animal welfare officers believing it was a sick prank.

Of course, the Daily Mail didn’t believe it was a sick prank and made this clear in the original article:

Perhaps she’s blushing at her new appearance. It’s difficult to tell right now.

For some prankster has dyed this white cat a rather fetching shade of pink.

Quite.

AOL in huge Fail

The News Grind is a satirical news site along the lines of the Daily Mash. Today they published a spoof story on the Moat situation:

Live camera crews have been deployed in the hope they will capture the best footage of Moat being riddled with bullets in a shoot-out.

“Talk about great, cheap telly,” said news broadcast analyst David Spacey. “For the cost of creating ten seconds of a single episode of The Pacific Sky will have 72 hours of live broadcasting on 12 channels, with a potentially explosive climax. And it’s all in HD.

“The nation can’t wait to see what will happen.”

The potential bloodbath has certainly caught the imagination of ordinary people.

“I can scarcely wait for the climax,” confirmed Elsie White, 77, as she raced back to her house after picking up some toffees and copies of today’s paper from a local newsagent featuring the blood-soaked face of a police officer allegedly shot by Moat.

“We haven’t had a live event like this to enjoy for quite some time and there’s only old Doctors episodes on at this time of day.”

Just about as clear as satire comes, right? Unless you work for AOL that is:

AOL Fail
Click to Enlarge

The article goes on to quote great chunks of satire from the News Grind, even pointing to the source as if it were a valid and serious news source, they even quoted the following without question:

Families have been collecting children from schools and nurseries throughout the day so they could watch together, as expectations reached fever pitch that a violent firearms confrontation was imminent. Over 800 schools have closed across the country as a result.

Just another example of why our media is a complete mess.

Update:

When AOL pull the plug you can still admire the complete FAIL here, because I screen grabbed the whole thing, just for you.


Massive hat-tip to @lostaddress who Tweeted this to me.  Also, upon investigating this I discovered that Robin Brown has already covered this, so polite link to his post here.

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Fact-checking and ‘good faith’

A while back  I posted a blog on the charming story of a pig that had a phobia of mud, and pointed out that it was in fact a story completely made up to sell sausages and promote a campaign for the fairer pricing of pork. I linked to the PR company which was using the example as evidence at how for a small fee it could get you in all the national papers and even onto Radio 5live and other BBC programs. Yet in the comments I was excused of being unfair to the journalist who ‘wrote’ the story and that:

If you had quoted the full Mail story, you would see that it was the owners of the pigs, farmers of twenty years, who are the ones saying she has a phobia of mud and that she likes to wear boots. The papers and media outlets reported in good faith what they said. Nor does PR woman Emma Cantrill say they are making this up – as Angry Mob claims – she is simply pointing out how they found a good angle that as well as being a fun story also helped advertise her client. Come on Angry Mob – once you were a source of light in the dark, but mow you are spinning stories as much as exposing the spin.

This comment was posted from an proxy IP address for one Associated Newspapers Ltd, owners of the Daily Mail. Brilliantly the commenter / journalist demonstrates just how stupid certain tabloid employees can be, given that his comment is full of complete lies.

Firstly: his accusation that the reporters reported the owner’s claims in good faith and that the claims were not made-up by the owners. The owners claimed – as I have clearly quoted in my blog post – that they ‘were at a loss, until they remembered the four miniature wellies used as pen and pencil holders in their office. They slipped them on the piglet’s feet – and into the mud she happily ploughed.’

Yet, as I clearly point out in a quotation from the PR agency in the original blog post: “Debbie and Andrew had suggested that we use one of their pedigree pigs for the campaign, as she had a distinct personality and was slightly more fastidious than her colleagues” – i.e. they picked a pig that was only slightly cleaner that the others – hardly sounds like a pig with a phobia of mud – and that: “Ross Parry Agency took this one step further and created the ‘pig in boots’ shot”.

So, the agency had the boots idea, not the owners, which makes the owners liars and the press lazy churnalists – this wasn’t a case that they happened to just have four miniature wellies in their office, but rather I suspect that the agency went out and bought some. I claimed they were making it up not because I was also ‘spinning’ ,  but rather because the PR agency is admitting to making it up. This is not the case of the PR agency ‘finding a good’ as the tabloid employee suggested, but it is a PR agency creating an angle specifically to draw in lazy journalists who can never resist a cute animal photo.

Secondly, the suggestion that ‘the papers and media outlets reported in good faith what they said’, well, forgive me for having expectations that ‘journalists’ are paid precisely because they don’t just ‘report stuff in good faith’. Even some basic checking would have revealed this story to be absolute pants, but then I’m 100% certain that 90% of tabloid journalists wouldn’t even care about truth in this instance, because at the end of the day this story makes good, quick and cheap copy and you get a cute picture of a pig in the paper.

As if to further prove my point that journalists really are a lazy bunch of gullible idiots who happily write articles without even the vaguest attempt at fact-checking The Media Blog reports this:

How journalism works: First, see this (ignoring the bit on the right about it being a parody):

Jobs_tweet

Next, write this (ignoring the bit about it not being true):

Steve-jobs-iphone

Then, explain to your editor that you didn’t need a second source because you heard it straight from the CEO himself… sort of, before hearing the dim and distant sound of a penny dropping.

That is poor, I mean really, really poor. The Daily Mail have now done the usual deletion of the story, but a search for ‘Steve Jobs’ on their site still reveals the original article:

Steve JobsThere is something more sinister behind this idea that Daily Mail journalists simply ‘report in good faith’ because they don’t have the time or basic intelligence to fact-check and that is that Daily Mail journalists have plenty of time to dig around for alternate angles on a story when it suits them. Take for example the way they report health and safety stories, whereby they take an anecdote or measure and then spend a lot of effort kneeding it into an outrage story. Or the sheer amount of invented stories that only involve the reader taking the word of the journalist in ‘good faith’, given the complete lack of any sources whatsoever.

When it comes to spinning stories (or simply making the whole thing up) about immigrants, gypsies, homosexuals, the ‘PC brigade’, ‘elf n safety’, the public sector and any other Daily Mail target journalists have plenty of time to mould bullshit into an article. So don’t give me any bullshit about ‘reporting in good faith’, when clearly this is something you not only do not do, it is in fact the exact opposite of what you do.


Thanks to @deardamselfly for the hat-tip.

A Fishy Tale

Hot on the heels of the cute pig in wellies suicidally promoting sausages comes this story about a Piranha supposedly caught in Kent: ‘Mystery of the killer Piranha caught by angler in a FOLKESTONE pond‘. As unlikely as this sounds the original headline is one of the most laughable that I have seen in a really long time: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1287272/Piranha-caught-Kent-lake-raises-fears-fish-breeding-Britain.html. How can one fish – believed in this article to be released in isolation – into a small, landlocked pond, which would normally die within minutes or days (due to either acute stress or simply the cold water) possibly ‘raise fears’ of them ‘breeding in Britain’. Even for the Daily Mail that is a very stupid headline.

The terrifying ordeal, described by fisherman Derek Plum – presumably with outstretched arms and claims of ‘It was THIS big!’ reckoned that:

‘I felt an almighty tug on my rod. Next thing I knew it had dragged my line about 500 yards. It was going all over the place,’ Mr Plum told The Sun.

‘It took me about 15 minutes to reel it in.

‘When it emerged it was thrashing around and was going crazy.

‘The other fisherman were yelling “you’ve caught a Piranha”. I couldn’t believe it. Luckily the fishing hook had fallen from its mouth, otherwise I would have somehow had to remove it myself.’

I’ll simply point out that the Mail barely makes it a few more paragraphs before sticking in a scantily clad Kelly Brook still photo from the soon-to-be-released ‘Piranha 3D’ film. I’ll let some anglers respond to Plum’s tall tales:

Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?