OPINION: 'Churnalism' is good news for savvy PROs

New research into the content of national newspapers is provoking indignation among certain editors but should, at the same time, offer quiet satisfaction to PR practitioners.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

The research, conducted by the journalism department at Cardiff University, claims that up to 80 per cent of stories in quality and mid-market newspapers include input from either PR briefings and releases or agency copy.

Writing about the research, investigative journalist Nick Davies claims journalism has become 'churnalism', with newspapers increasingly vulnerable to mass manipulation by external forces, especially PROs.

Davies, as an old-fashioned seeker of the unvarnished truth, laments the trend. From his perspective, every element of the news agenda should be set by journalists alone. It is fair to assume that, for him, the function of PROs should simply be to issue statements responding to their findings. Similar sentiments echo through robust comments on the research by spokespeople for various national news organisations (yes, the media uses spokespeople too).

But for PROs, the findings are gratifying. Effectively they confirm our status as an essential part of the news-generating apparatus of the UK national media. They underline the fact that our messages and the creative manner in which we can - at our best - deliver them have earned their place on the news and feature schedules of the national news media. That, of course, includes magazines, websites and broadcast.

The findings confirm best-practice PR has fully come of age as part of the news-creating agenda. Partly, of course, our newly acknowledged role as suppliers of news content is a consequence of the growth and fragmentation of modern media.

In the case of newspapers, their pagination has increased over the past decade in almost exact inverse proportion to decline in staff numbers.

Fewer journalists filling more pages means more opportunities for media-savvy PROs to create editorial opportunities for brands and individuals. Similarly, the explosion of online and broadcast outlets, staffed by relatively small teams, has opened up real opportunities.

There is another lesson for PROs in the research's recognition of the all-pervasive influence of agency copy. Smart operators should brush up their agency contacts, from the Press Association to the plethora of excellent regional news agencies whose copy fills so much space.

One clever creative placed with a single good agency can easily hit a dozen outlets the next day - with most of the hard sell done by the agency, while the PRO originator remains invisible.

Welcome to the golden age of churnalism.


Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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