Much ado about online churnalism

5 08 2009

If churnalism is the mindless recycling of ready-made source material as news, then I wonder: is blogging newspaper articles churnalism? The Washington Post’s Ian Shapiro seems to think so. His article about a ‘generational consultant’ was blogged by Gawker, the popular Manhattan celeb and media blog. Big deal, right?

In a response to the Gawker story, Ian admits to feeling “flattered” by the Gawker post until he “started thinking about all the labor that went into producing my 1,500-word article”. He goes on to detail his journalistic labors: making phone calls, going places, interviewing and transcribing, adding that

After all the reporting, it took me about a day to write the 1,500-word piece. How long did it take Gawker to rewrite and republish it, cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views?

Basically, what Ian wants, is a piece of the Gawker advertising pie. He reported the story originally, put in the dirty work. All Gawker did was churn his story. While Ian certainly raises a valuable point – where will original reporting come from online? – it is ironic that newspapers are lamenting online churning practices.

News production is a quintessentially intertextual practice. News never comes out the of the blue: it is *always* linked to previous news discourse. If one newspaper breaks a story, rival newspapers are sure to pick it up. No editor-in-chief would charge other newspapers money for that. Granted, there is a clear difference between reporting a story and churning a press release or newswire story, but reproducing content (technically: to ‘recontextualize’; less technically: to ‘tweet’ or to ‘blog’) is common practice in journalism, print or online.


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