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Mick Temple’s Blog



Mick Temple has gained access to disturbing research about the media’s increasing reliance on PR handouts, rather than original journalism.  Funnily enough, the findings don’t appear to have made it into the mainstream media.

There are no jokes in this week’s blog. For those of us who care about journalism, the news is too depressing. 

 For the past few months I’ve been sitting on some pretty shattering news about British ‘quality’ journalism. The findings by academic colleagues at Cardiff University’s journalism school have been strictly embargoed but Mediawise has just released the findings of some Joseph Rowntree-funded research into the public domain. Believe me, this is important – please read on.  

For some time now, critics have alleged that today’s journalists have effectively become ‘re-processors’ of pre-packaged information rather than reporters. 

Unfortunately for British journalism’s assertions of fearless independence in serving the public sphere, there is now clear evidence that such anecdotal assertions are founded in truth. Too many journalists are uncritically accepting and recycling PR material. 

Justin Lewis, Andrew Williams and Bob Franklin analysed 2,207 news items in five newspapers, the Guardian, Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. They found that nearly (49%) of news stories published and analysed for their study ‘were wholly or mainly dependent on materials produced and distributed by wire services with a further fifth (21%) of stories containing some element of agency copy’. Furthermore, ‘nearly one in five newspaper stories ... were verifiably derived mainly or wholly from PR material or activity’.

While an apparently lesser reliance on PR material might seem positive - Press Association copy is at least ‘journalism’ - Press Association reporters admitted that their workload had also made them ‘heavily dependent’ on PR material.

The Cardiff researchers found that newspapers generally failed to acknowledge their reliance on agency or PR copy even when it was reproduced almost verbatim. Television news has no reason to feel smug – their examination of broadcast news output found similar patterns.  

The damning conclusion reached was that their research portrayed – wait for it - a ‘ picture of the journalistic processes of news gathering and news reporting in which any meaningful independent journalistic activity by the media is the exception rather than the rule’ (my emphasis). 

The authors acknowledge that there are clearly strong reasons for the reliance by journalists on PR and agency material. Although the number of journalists has remained relatively constant and in some areas has slightly increased, they are now required to write many more stories to fill ‘the ever-expansive pages of the national press’.  

The newspaper of thirty years ago was a relatively puny affair and journalists are now required to write (and of course research) for an ever-increasing number of specialist supplements. Online editions and ‘multiple media platforms’ now require regular updating. 24 hour news adds to the pressures, so that the journalist’s job is never done. Accompanying these developments, lack of time means stories are no longer always checked for veracity.  

There is now no doubt that, far too often, journalists receive and transmit PR and press agency material without questioning its accuracy and without seeking alternative viewpoints.

 It is beyond dispute that journalism’s role in informing the public and in questioning the powerful is compromised by such practices. Can we wonder why public trust in journalism is so low?

 I can’t wait to see how the news media respond. If they even publish the findings …

Also see Barbara Panvels article here.

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