Churnalism: The Numbers…

Here’s a nice little prep for tomorrow’s panel discussion from It comes up with some of the same findings as the’s blog paper round experiment a few years ago:

The study, carried out by postgraduate students in 2010, found that between 11.6% and 21% of newspaper stories across eight major daily publications were mainly or entirely generated by public relations material, and that between 32% and 50% of all stories contained elements of public relations material. The worst offender was the Irish Times (21% of stories comprising all or mainly public relations material) with the Evening Herald scoring best (11.6% comprising all or mainly public relations material).

The other newspapers examined were the Daily Mirror (12%), the Irish Examiner (16%), the Daily Mail (13%) and the Irish Sun (13.6%). All the figures for the Irish Independent are currently unavailable, but the students found that 46% of all stories in the Independent contained public relations material – a figure which is broadly in line with the other newspapers.

I’m not so convinced that qual measures like that tell the whole story of quality journalism, but it points to what the empty desks from Boston to Washington, to London and Belfast indicate: there are less people doing the job than there used to be.

And the job is changing faster than anyone involved in the business (or indeed any of us peering in from the outside) can account for.

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  • Rory Carr

    Nothing surprising here. I, for example, who all my working life bought at least two newspapers every day, plus the weekend blockbusters, as well as the Spectator, New Statesman and Economist weekly and half a dozen far left and far right organs to gauge their progress and numerous literary and arts magazines at whim and not forgetting Private Eye every fortnight, now that I am retired with lots of time to read more do not buy any newspapers whatsoever and only very rarely any of the weekly news magazines (I still remain loyal to Private Eye for those stories of governmental, party political and corporate shenanigans which the msm studiously avoid).

    I do not feel in the least deprived and I have yet to pick up any daily newspaper and see a story or piece of writing that makes me regret my abandonment. Indeed my only regret is that I bothered for so long to retain any residual belief in the power or willingness of the press to advise, inform or challenge in any meaningful way. When Dave Spart, the eponymous lefty student columnist of Private Eye vents his fortnightly rant against “the lackey capitalist running-dogs of the…er.. bourgeois press…” I suspect that at last old Dave is coming into his own and that there are few remaining, from whatever fragment of the political sector, who would disagree with him.

  • Mick Fealty

    What, if anything, has filled the yawning gap Rory?

  • Rory Carr

    BBC Radio 4 and the internet mostly, Mick – and I can “do” both simultaneously. But now that I have the time and freedom I can research more deeply (and oh-so-quickly now) into any matter of interest that pops up in my sightline.

  • Brian Walker

    Is Rory saying he reads almost as much on the net as he used to in print? For 30 years I too had a full set of all British and Irish with full acces to specialist and foreign. And still do, minus FT beyond the monthly taster, and the Times and Irish News, due to paywalls..

    I think the UK national press are rising to the challenge of the web and are offering well differentiated reading, beyond spot news. News features and opinion are developing well.

    Re the Republic the papers are lagging behind UK development in these areas. In the North,after years skimming the surface of the Troubles much of the press still haven’t adjusted to the rigours of an agenda which the political system doesn’t fully express. Lack of resources are evident although there are signs of new life in the Irish News (when I see it) and the Newsletter.

    Not every improvement costs money. If you expand your range, interaction with the public can produce new stories and interesting comment.

    Pick up from blogs ( like this one) clearly happens and should be extended – with suitable acknowledgment!. But cottage industry bloggers shouldn’t deceive themselves. They do not replace the well funded, well researched press. They are creating new networks. And as I’ve said before we could do with an ever changing blog directory

  • Rory Carr

    I’ll have to think about that, Brian and try to come back when I can formulate more clearly just how my intake and dissemination of information has changed and how it might, if at all, have improved, since my abandonment of the daily fix of newsprint.

    But shopping duties call and then there’s the prospect of lunch….

  • Dewi

    How about the Crossword Rory?

  • Brian Walker

    Just to enrich the mix..

    Guardian editor lan Rusbridger has a major overview of the media and the web- “The Splintering of the Fourth Estate.” there’s a new kid on the block. A third wing to the fourth estate, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor. You could even argue there are two new kids on the block – the original world wide web (essentially another form of transmission) and web 2.0, the advent and rapid maturing of so-called social, or open, media. No one owns the digital space and it is barely regulated. It brings with it an entirely new idea of what journalism is – indeed, for some, it calls into question whether there is any such distinct thing as “journalism”

    He defends public subsidy for the BBC, plurality of ownership of the press and 15 ways by which Twitter adds to the news business.

  • Ballycastle and a Tesco Store

    I’ve suggested that press releases in newspapers should be labelled as such. In a sense, they’re a form of advertising.

  • Not Marconi’s Cottage

    This looks like another PR story fed into a wire service and published by the MSM with no elementary checking of the facts.

    The MSM also failed to pick up on irregularities in the planning process. So there’s been a double whammy 🙂

  • Local Government Officer


    I would have thought that a lead on this sort of thing, certainly from an investigative point, should have come from the local press. Having dealt with them on an almost weekly basis, I feel your pain. They completely fail to ask the right questions. They have very little understanding beyond “here’s an FoI about the cost”.

    I think it is worth noting an FoI which pretty much both demonstrates the scatter gun approach they take and shows a complete lack of understanding of the real use of FoI.

    This came from a “journalist” at the Irish News, who sent it to every council FOI email in the region. She wanted to know if the councils – over the past five years, mind you:

    had bought any equipment which was subsequently unfit for purpose
    had then modified it
    what were they using it for now
    what did it cost originally, and what did it cost to modify
    and if they had sold it what did they get for it.

    That’s it in a nutshell. I beginning to think that we don’t have any cause to really complain about a cumbersome public sector. They’re all too busy chasing up this sort of nonsense, which I suspect was sparked off by a story about trailers in North Down.

    Don’t get me wrong. She has a right to ask. We have an obligation to answer. But I understand she got about 22 very polite “get lost” responses. Rightly so. Is this REALLY what FoI is for? For every lazy journalist, wannabe hack and can’t-be-arsed-student in the land?

    I haven’t seen anything remotely “investigative” in local press in years. And this certainly ain’t it. The figures above show that the regional media aren’t doing much better.

    Apologies – I know I’m off topic and a bit harsh there, but it had to be said.

  • jon the raver

    Think there needs to be a reassment of newspapers and what service they provide.

    Newsrooms theses days are undermanned and when 300 words come through for a white space its easier to copy and paste than assign to an over worked journalist trying to track down the front page lead.

    Look at this weeks papers: Both the Tele and the News Letter led with the killer dentist – both very different but was there a real need as it had been covered in depth on the BBC and UTV ?

    The Irish News on the other hand covered the ridiculous spending of the health service.

    Papers need to re examine what they do and how they cover the day before’s news – the whole industry needs to change and provde worthwhile quality content that is very different to the rolling news TV and internet

  • jojo

    Local journalism is being slowly strangled by job losses. Take Johnston Press for example. Even before Atex, which could kill local investigative journalism stone dead, there were no subs in Morton Newspaper titles. Now very small and over-worked teams of journalists are putting barcodes on papers, attaching pictures to stories, and moving photographs from a media grid storage system to the Atex one that allows the pictures to go onto the page. Count the spelling mistakes in these papers. There’s no pride in them anymore, they are vehicles for getting advertising as far as I can see.

  • Munsterview

    More or less on the same tack. I get a few good daily news, financial and scientific digests and follow any stories that appeal on the net with my own research. The Irish times for all it’s faults is still the best of a poor lot of dailys on this Island.