Thursday 7 July 2011

Churnalism debate defeat for proposal to mark news stories based on press releases as advertorials

A motion calling for news stories based on press releases to be marked as "advertorials" was defeated in a debate on churnalism, organised by the Media Standards Trust in London last night.

Opposing the motion, David Higgerson, head of multimedia at Trinity Mirror regionals, argued that the churnalism debate "demonised" press releases and did not take into account whether journalists had checked out the facts contained in them.

He said that within journalism "advertorial" was already used to describe articles and supplements that were guaranteed a place in a newspaper and were paid-for by a client.

Filmmaker Chris Atkins, who has hoaxed the press with fake press releases to highlight churnalism, spoke for the motion.

He claimed that by marking articles based on press release material as advertorial would help "rebuild" trust in journalists and encourage people to "go to news sources that weren't churning as much as others".

James Randerson, the Guardian's environment and science editor, also supported the motion. He argued that it was "about being honest with the reader". Randerson argued that journalists who failed to link to or credit sources were guilty of a paternalistic attitude to their readers which was out of kilter with the times.

"Linking to things is now so easy," he said and warned that if journalists didn't: "Lots of people out there are keen to see journalists trip up and they will be found out."

Visiting professor in PR at the University of Westminster Trevor Morris argued that without PR and press releases there would be less media and advertising revenue to support journalism.

He claimed the vast majority of press releases, around 90%, got no coverage. "PR is not that powerful. If you like the message you call it a campaign. If you hate it, you call it propaganda."

There was a consensus that the idea of marking stories based on press releases as advertorial was a "blunt tool" that did not take on the more complex relations between journalists and PRs.

But there was also agreement among the speakers that journalists need to be more transparent about where their stories come from and to link to original sources.

Overshadowing the debate were the latest phone hacking revelations and the damage they have done to the public image of journalists and how much they are trusted. The Media Standards Trust has been calling for a public inquiry into phone hacking.

No comments: