Friday, 15 February 2013

'Churnalism': What is happening to Journalism?

Whatever happened to 'traditional' journalism?

It is clear to all that the news plays one of the most vital roles in the UK. That is, distributing information to mass audiences, informing us of the workings and wrong-doings of society, and of our governments. 

As a trainee journalist, beginning my journey into the profession, one thing has been made clear to me: that traditional journalistic methods of gathering news and the concept of the nosy journalist, knocking on doors and meeting councillors has somewhat become a thing of the past. 
By all means, these traits are still vital to the job. In my own education of journalism, I am constantly told that finding original stories is something to aim for, for least a good reputation. 

So why is this not what I see in the news stories available to audiences of mass media organisations, such as the BBC and The Guardian? 

In today's digital age where information is accessed and produced instantly anywhere on a range of devices from not only journalists but the general public, why is there no determination to find hard, original news that will serve the public interest? Instead I find that the concept of 'churnalism', which is, the 'churning' of information provided by the powers (governments, businesses etc), information which is 'spun' by Public Relations agencies to protect their image, dominates the content of news in the UK.
If authoritative powers such as the Government, who are accountable to the public and therefore subject to the naturally sceptical journalist serving the public, are providing the news content, then what values does our trusted news contain? 

This makes me think whether I can trust the news and as a young, ambitious and admittedly somewhat naive journalist beginning my career, what kind of journalist I want to be.

I somewhat thank my stars that the Media Standards Trust have created the Churnalism Search Engine, in which anyone can copy and paste a news story into, and in return receive a percentage of how much of the news content is provided by Press Releases. As a journalist I dream of one day being respected for providing original, investigative and resourceful news stories and I believe this search engine will allow journalists to prove themselves, as well as the news organisations who employ them.

In a discussion about the dip in quality, and quantity of journalism in the US, John Nichols, political blogger for The Nation, offers an informed and insightful perspective of the modern news industry, which applies thoroughly to the UK news industries.
In his presentation, Nichols provides a simple example of the 'traditional' journalist, compared to the concept of Churnalism.

(John Nichols, political blogger at The Nation, guest speaking at the 2010 Walkley Media Conference)

Power is at the forefront of his discussion and, similarly to anyone studying such topic, the signature line is consistently 'how does this affect the public sphere'. 

It is disturbing that much of the news, which generates social discourse, is provided by those who skilfully evade the truth (to some extent) to protect their very own image. 
Some blame the ever changing consumption methods of news, such as '24 hour rolling news', which pressures news companies to continuously produce news stories and update them.

I however, disagree with the entire concept. Press releases should and always be researched, investigated and a sceptical approach is essential. To ever reproduce the content is nothing more than malpractice and it is not journalism. 

In my journey to becoming a fully qualified, skilful and professional journalist, I hope to keep this mindset at the heart of everything I do; to pursue where others conclude and to pursue for the truth.