Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Watch out journalists: New churnalism detector website aims to expose lazy PR-fed journalism

The Media Standards Trust has launched a new website it claims can detect "churnalism" - lazy journalism that involves the recycling of press releases with little new content added. has been inspired by Guardian journalist Nick Davies' book Flat Earth News, in which he used the word "churnalism" and reported that PR material now finds its way into 54% of news stories.

On users can:
  • Compare a press release with over 3 million articles published by national newspaper websites, the BBC or Sky News since 2008
  • See the percentage of a press release cut and pasted into news articles, and the number of characters that overlap
  • See a press release side-by-side with an image of the article, showing which bits have been copied
  • Search examples of “churn” saved by other people as well as collected automatically by
  • Share examples of churn via Twitter and Facebook
“News organisations can now be much more transparent about the sources of their articles,” Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust said, “but most of them still aren’t. Hiding the connection between PR and news is not in the interests of the public. Hopefully will nudge them to be more open about their use of PR material.

“Even with press releases that are clearly in the public interest - medical breakthroughs, government announcements, school closures, and perhaps even this website launch - it is still better that articles are transparent about their sources.

“Maybe will also encourage more original journalism. Exposing unoriginal churn may help slow the steep decline in the amount of original reporting that we’ve seen in the last few years.”

How it works: The site compresses all articles published on national newspaper websites, on BBC News, and Sky News online, into a series of numbers based on 15 character strings (using a 'hash function') and then stores them in a fast access database. When someone pastes in some text and clicks 'compare', the ‘churn engine’ compresses the text entered and then searches for similar compressions (or 'common hashes'). If the engine finds any articles where the similarity is greater than 20%, then it suggests the article may be churn.

Warning: This story has been compiled from a press release from so it could be a complete hoax to show churnalism in operation. I ran the story through the churnalism detector - and it passed.

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