Churnalism: “Journalism that churns out articles based on wire stories and press releases, rather than original reporting.” (Source: Word Spy.) A portmanteau of churn and journalism.
I spotted churnalism last week in an FT Magazine story about the blurring of lines between journalism and PR. The story, by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, leads with the launch of a “community-driven daily news site” called Richmond Standard in the East Bay city of Richmond, California. Richmond’s population of 100,000 “is no longer a guarantee” that it “can sustain a thriving daily paper,” writes Edgecliffe-Johnson. But Richmond Standard is doing just fine, possibly because “it is run and funded by Chevron, the $240bn oil group which owns the Richmond refinery that in August 2012 caught fire, spewing plumes of black smoke over the city and sending more than 15,000 residents to hospital for medical help.”
Even Americans who don’t live in company towns like Richmond are exposed “to what proponents call ‘brand journalism’—a new form of journalism that just happens to be produced by companies,” Edgecliffe-Johnson writes:
As journalism schools pump out new generations of would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins, many of those not finding newsroom jobs have turned instead to the business of how to present the news in the most flattering light. They have been joined by laid-off reporters, editors, producers and presenters*, with the skills to tell the stories brands want to be told about themselves. … Their efforts seem to be working. Cardiff University researchers estimated in 2006 that 41 per cent of UK press articles were driven by PR, a phenomenon known as “churnalism.”
“Churnalism” was popularized in Flat Earth News, a 2008 book by the British freelance journalist Nick Davies:
This is churnalism. This is journalists failing to perform the simple basic functions of their profession; quite unable to tell their readers the truth about what is happening on their patch.
Word Spy’s most recent citations, from 2009, are from British newspapers (the Daily Mail and the Guardian), possibly influenced by Davies’s book. But the earliest citation, from 2001, is American (Writer’s Digest Books).
In April 2013, the Washington, DC-based Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to government transparency. launched Churnalism.com, the US version of a UK site developed by the Media Standards Trust. (Note: I've amended the original post to clarify the relationship between the two sites.) Churnalism.com is “an open-source plagiarism detection,” one of its developers told The Atlantic. Enter an article’s URL, or paste some of its text, and Churnalism will compare it with a corpus of press releases and Wikipedia articles, then notify you if it has detected “churn.”
* British English for what Americans usually call a “news anchor” or “program host.” FT Magazine is published by the The Financial Times, whose main office is in London.