'Churnalism' study claims news mainly PR and wire copy

Some 80 per cent of news stories in the quality UK national newspapers are at least partly made up of recycled newswire or PR copy, according to new research.

This was one of the findings of a study by Cardiff University’s journalism department which also claimed that fewer Fleet Street journalists now produce three times as many pages as they did 20 years ago.

The research was carried out for a controversial new book investigating Fleet Street by Guardian journalist Nick Davies.

It also claims that the majority of home news stories in national newspapers are mainly made up of PR and/or wire copy. The research claims that the proportions are: The Times, 69 per cent; The Daily Telegraph, 68 per cent; Daily Mail, 66 per cent; The Independent, 65 per cent and The Guardian, 52 per cent.

Slamming what he calls ‘churnalism”, Davies says: ‘Now, more than ever in the past, we are likely to engage in the mass production of ignorance because the corporations and the accountants who have taken us over have stripped out our staffing, increased our output and ended up chaining us to our desks.”

The Telegraph, Guardian and Times did not provide a comment when presented with the research findings. But the Daily Mail and Independent refute Davies’s claims. The Daily Mail spokesman said: ‘Nick Davies has not got his facts right.

‘The Daily Mail continues to invest in journalism – more so than any other newspaper in Fleet Street. We employ more journalists, not less, than we did two or three years ago.

‘We have launched the Scottish Daily Mail and the Irish Daily Mail. We have invested talent and people in our very successful website.

‘Of course we accept that the press and other media need to be scrutinised but, instead of so sourly knocking his own trade, Mr Davies would have served our industry better by presenting a more-balanced picture of a hugely diverse, energetic and professional British media that has its faults, but also great strengths in protecting the interests of the public against an increasingly powerful state.

‘Of course we take some agency copy. So do all newspapers and other media. That is what the agencies are for. However we spend time and talent on checking and expanding those reports. The same goes for any PR releases we may get if they are newsworthy.

‘However we utterly refute his suggestion that most of our editorial material is based on PR and agency copy. We are proud of the countless original stories we get that others follow up.”

News editor at the Independent, Julian Coman, said: ‘It doesn’t particularly ring true to me. If that was the case then they must have been pretty exceptional weeks, because most of the time the way we operate is precisely to go off-agenda.

‘Partly in order to distinguish ourselves in the market, if you look at the types of front we have done on asylum and banks and packaging and so on, then they are the precise opposite of relying on PRs.

‘Generally there is a backbone of diary stories of the day that come from PA, and the diaries of the various specialists, but the whole point of what we do is to get behind that and think more originally as much as we can.

‘There are certain stories which would come from the diary and which are there and everyone does them. In a sense the whole point of what we do is to try to add to that. If you look at our spreads again, it’s an attempt to think about what’s around but not treat it in a diary or a PR sense.”

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