Posted by: Rajiv Harjai | June 20, 2007

“Journalists have become Churnalists” – Tony Harcup

I have been reading a lot of PR Vs. Journalism posts these days, this makes me remember a seminar I attended by Tony Harcup, Author of the book “The Ethical Journalist” who was talking about his book. Being disappointed with the whole profession today, he said, “What is happening to the News today? This is not journalism. Journalists these days have become ‘Churnalist,’ They just Churn news.” He added that journalists get more than 100 pitches a day and now they have started just churning it out, or churning news from the news feeders. I think what Tony said holds value, as these days above 40% of the news which is in the newspapers is provided by PR.

Furthermore, during my recent work placement, many journalists asked me if they could get a one to one interview with Shilpa Shetty, where I said let me see if I can accommodate you as there were over 100 journalists at the Press Conference. Journalists were accommodated where ever possible. But many journalists who requested for one on one interviews, didn’t stick around to wait if they could be accommodated after the Press conference was over. They covered the official press release and went to have lunch. But some who roughed it out a bit, sticking around for the right opportunity, did get their bytes (read stories). I remember one journalist was accommodated by having an interview with Shilpa Shetty, on the stairs of the Hotel, after the 2nd press conference and one-on-one interview sessison was over.

Seeing the number of journalists who didn’t rough it out or wait, I quite understand Tony Harcup’s comment about Churnalism.

Tony Harcup further said in his seminar, that many times the journalists are helpless as they have to report ‘what sells’ . This takes a journalist away from covering the news which he or she should. Celebrity news being one of the big contributors to this cause. Besides the ‘Reporting what Sells’ problem faced by journalists, I understand the frustration journalists go through when they get calls from PR executives about whether they received his/her email. My take on this situation is that call a journalist only when you know that the story is very good and when you are sure that he might have missed the story.

Many PR practitioners say that calling up to check works, but my question is, how many times? It might work 1 out 10 (maybe). Calling and emailing over and over again is making PR get a image as junk provider which even David Henderson said last month in his post on Strumpette that “PR is becoming seen as online spam.

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Responses

  1. The thing that I find astonishing are PR professionals who, because they believe that the PR profession is no longer trusted, resort to underhanded means to relabel PR (advocacy speech on behalf of a client, which is, of course perfectly legitimate) as “journalism” — we call this “advertorial” in the business.

    Personally, as a journalist myself, I would rather read the press release itself than read the press release rewritten as though it were were objective and impartial journalism.

    You know why? Because often the press release — which somebody who deserves to earn the big bucks for stating the case carefully and succinctly — gets garbled in the process. Why pay someone the big bucks to make the case as eloquently as possible, only to hand it to the summer intern to mangle into gisted advertorial?

    As a journalist, I follow the press release wires regularly myself. I prefer it. When I read a press release, I know whose point of view it is written from, and there is a contact number at the bottom if I have questions. A good PR professional, rather than resorting to subterfuges, will already have thought through the answers to any skeptical questions I might raise.

    I’m telling you, I wind up trusting THAT message a lot more than I do if you try to sneak it past me as advertorial.

    Of course I understand you flacks are out to make the best possible case for your clients. That is your job and it is an honorable and legitimate one. I do not mistrust you for that, and I enjoy working with flacks who take pride in their work. That, more than anything, leaves a better impression on me than pressure tactics and subterfuge.

    And as to the pressure tactics you discuss, I can testify to drowning in such calls myself. On such occasions, I always try to remind myself that sometimes worthwhile stories can be the victims of bad choices about who you hire to tell them. But llook: I work in a deadline-driven job. Sometimes a peremptory shooting of the wicked messenger, justly or unjustly, seems like the only thing that is going to keep you sane.

  2. Firstly, thanks for a great insight from a journalists perspective.

    I agree with you completely on everything you said besides the flacks part. 🙂 The PR profession has got a bad name because many practitioners try stupid tactics to get there message across.

    One thing I failed to recognize in my post was the deadline-driven job which journalists have to deal with and calls regarding, ‘did you received my email’ are just not required. Thanks for mentioning that.

    Lastly (as a student), one things I have sworn after reading so many blogs and even your comment above is not to ‘call’ unless it was a truly good story and being sure the journalist missed it.

  3. Rajiv – the best advice for any PR is to build up their contacts and develop professional mutulally-beneficial relationships with journalists.

    That way, your calls are more likely to be taken and viewed as being of value.

    Like you, I never fail to be surprised by some of the stupid tactics that continue to be used by PR practitioners with the excuse that they may work.

    That’s why the spammers and junk mail folk also say – I like to think in PR we should have more respect for our selves and our contacts than that.

  4. Nicely said Heather.

    Public Relations isn’t just relations with publics, but everyone you encounter in your profession. You have to not only understand your clients needs, but everyone who comes associated with you and your company.

  5. very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  6. Such a nice article .


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