Brett Hetherington

Banner photos: Cornelia Kraft

Churnalism

 [This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, June 2017.]

 

I learnt a new word this week after reading an email from a journalist friend.


Churnalism is defined in the Collins online dictionary as: "a type of journalism that relies on reusing existing material such as press releases and wire service reports instead of original research, especially as a result of an increase in demand for news content. "


The verb 'to churn out' means “to produce large quantities of something very quickly.” Typically, it has been used to mean an industrial process and I want to give you just one example of why churnalism is produced in today's media.


Below is the email that my friend forwarded to me. It is apparently a leaked email sent to the subbing [editing] team at one of Australia's biggest commercial newspapers by the chief sub [editor], a British man. It was written after a strike by journalists over the sacking of yet another group of staff. He writes:

"I thought I would spell out expectations for the new gig, which has an open-ended contract (meaning there is no set time frame ... good news). The MINIMUM story output for a 4-hour shift is 16. Obviously we will give everyone a few weeks to...adjust to the new protocols. But if you fail to hit the numbers on a regular basis, we will have THE TALK! Copy flow is still appalling.... Many of you are still subbing normally...Forget it. I know it will come hard to those subs, like myself, who have been in this business for many years. You are now copy-fitting. When the story [gets to us], as far as [this company] is concerned, it is ready to print. We give it a (very) quick read, touch up any minor mistakes [then] get rid of it...We assume the story is perfect, not to be changed...and, please, do not change ANYTHING without first getting approval unless it is glaring obvious...because there will be no checking process. We will have neither the numbers nor the time to check. So make sure you get the magic zero fit...We WILL be reading pages throughout the night, but that’s the best I can do with the budget. It’s also what [this media company] is paying for...and all they want."


I now want to do a little analysis of what some of the words of this chief editor say, compared to what I believe they really mean to the journalists/sub-editors who have to read them and try to work using this email.


"new gig:" meaning you are working in the short-term contracts /freelance gig-economy now.

" open-ended contract: " conditions completely in favour of the employer.

" new protocols" changed rules that demand more production from the worker.

" hit the numbers on a regular basis:" you are on a factory production line and your output is being closely monitored and measured against your colleagues.

" Many of you" (repeated twice for emphasis) meaning: I don't know and don't care enough to communicate with you personally, giving the added benefit of confusing you about which category you might be in.

" copy-fitting:" meaning doing a lot of verbatim cutting and pasting directly from corporate and government press releases.

" we will have THE TALK! " meaning you will be warned that you will be fired unless you meet management's "expectations."

"Copy flow:" you don't write articles. You ensure a flow of content. You simply give order to the words that fill the spaces in the newspaper.

" I know it will come hard to those subs, like myself:” an attempt to convince the journalist that they have a shared past in common, pretending to care and understand how their work conditions are now worse.

" it is ready to print:" I am reinforcing that you will be doing my editing job for me.


I cannot begin to say how happy I am that I do not work for an organisation like the one above.