"A bit of me dies when I see that": PR perspectives on churnalism

Authors: Jackson, D. and Moloney, K.

Start date: 10 September 2015

There is widespread concern in both the professional and academic fields of journalism about the growing tide of churnalism (unfiltered PR or agency copy) in the news. Invariably, such accounts are written from within and about journalism studies. But this ignores another story which I examine in this presentation: that of the PR practitioner.Based on interviews with 28 PR practitioners, I document their perspectives on: The latest developments in PR media relations practice aimed at getting PR material into the news The apparent power shift between PR and journalism implied in journalism studies literature Normative evaluations of churnalism; does it trouble them either professionally or personally? With respect to PR practice the findings revealed a number of PR professionals who understand news in depth, and whose media relations practice goes beyond the classic information subsidy, to what we call a style subsidy: targeted, tailored, page-ready news copy. In terms of PR practitioner culture, this practice of developing media material that is‘copy and paste’ ready for publication is a recognised sign of professional expertise.

PR practitioners see power relationships in complex and contradictory ways. Despite many circumstances (such as newsroom cuts and fewer specialist reporters) working in their favour, this does not mean they necessary feel emboldened in their everyday encounters with journalists.

Perhaps surprisingly, for the vast majority of practitioners, there were either professional or personal concerns about increasing churnalism. The professional concerns stem partly from a position of self-interest: that unfiltered PR raises credibility issues for the PR message. Secondly, churnalism represents an ethical dilemma expressed through an ongoing tension between their personal/ civic and professional identities. Very few observe the journalists' recent travails with glee: most want to see a robust and independent journalism where PR input is balanced with other sources.

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