We generally applaud the work of the Columbia Journalism Review.
And we applaud the fact it brought attention to an interesting new Churnalism.com website.
The CJR piece offers this definition:
“A piece of ‘churnalism’ is a news article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added.”
But there’s at least one troubling section in the CJR story. It stated:
“Of course, not all churnalism is bad. There are plenty of press releases that are in the public interest. It would be odd if news outlets did not publish news about medical breakthroughs, about major government announcements, about exciting new consumer products.”
That’s enough to make me – and perhaps anyone else who cares about the quality of health care journalism – rise up out of the chair.
We hope that Churnalism.com will appreciate that news releases that tout medical breakthroughs are generally NOT in the public interest. They often lead to single source stories that don’t evaluate the claims of breakthroughs, often don’t seek independent perspectives, often don’t investigate conflicts of interest behind the claims, and often concern claims that don’t, indeed, turn out to be breakthroughs.
This is not in the public interest. It wouldn’t be “odd” if news outlets didn’t publish such news. It would be laudable.
Whether a story appeared to rely solely or largely on a news release is one of our 10 criteria that we apply to the evaluation of stories on HealthNewsReview.org.
Indeed, we pointed to a classic case study of over-reliance on news releases on this blog just this week.
So we think the CJR piece requires correction on at least this one important point.
Nonetheless, read the piece and visit the Churnalism.com website.
It’s a clear and bothersome trend. And despite what the CJR piece said, it is perhaps more troubling in health care news than in any other field.