Churning and Churning in the Media Gyre


When I was 20 or so I got an internship that involved, among other things, churning out press releases for a hospital. I was young enough to be surprised the day I discovered my handiwork, barely altered, run as a news story in the local paper. I felt like I'd unwittingly joined the Illuminati.

Traditionally there hasn't been an easy way to tell how much reporting is really PR, but the folks behind want to change that. The Guardian reports:

As you can see, I've retyped Pfizer's press release with a MUCH more colorful lede.

The website,, created by charity the Media Standards Trust, allows readers to paste press releases into a "churn engine". It then compares the text with a constantly updated database of more than 3m articles. The results, which give articles a "churn rating", show the percentage of any given article that has been reproduced from publicity material….

[Trust Director Martin] Moore said he accepted journalists often have a valid reason for using press releases, and will often need to copy and paste significant chunks, such as official statements and quotes. But he said that on many occasions reporters appear to be lifting press release text verbatim and adding little or no additional material.

In a typical example, the Express, Mirror and Sun all lifted of chunks of text from a press release last month on behalf of the Benenden Healthcare Society, which quoted a poll showing "British women spend more money on their looks than their health". The Daily Mail copied 98% of the text directly from the press release.

At this point the site focuses on the British press. I hope it won't be long before it either expands its radius to the U.S. or inspires an American copycat.