On Friday I had quite a bit of fun with Churnalism.com, a new site from the Media Standards Trust which allows you to test how much of a particular press release has been reproduced verbatim by media outlets.
The site has an API, which got me thinking whether you might be able to ‘mash’ it with an RSS feed from Google News to check particular types of articles – and what ‘signals’ you might use to choose those articles.
I started with that classic PR trick: the survey. A search on Google News for “a survey * found” (the * is a wildcard, meaning it can be anything) brings some interesting results to start investigating.
Jon Bounds added a favourite of his: “hailed a success”.
And then it continued:
- “Research commissioned by”
- “A spokesperson said”
- “Can increase your risk of” and “Can reduce your risk of”
Contributors to the MySociety mailing list added:
- “Proud to announce”
- “Today launches”
- “Revolutionary new”
- “It was revealed today” (Andy Mabbett)
- “According to research”, “research published today” and “according to a new report”
And of course there is “A press release said”.
Signal – or sign?
The idea kicked off a discussion on Twitter on whether certain phrases were signals of churnalism, or just journalistic cliches. The answer, of course, is both.
By brainstorming for ‘signals’ I wasn’t arguing that any material using these phrases would be guilty of churnalism – or even the majority – just that they might be represent one way of narrowing your sample. Once you have a feed of stories containing “Revolutionary new” you can then use the API to test what proportion of those articles are identical to the text in a press release – or another news outlet.
The signal determines the sample, the API calculates the results.
Indeed, there’s an interesting research project to be done – perhaps using the Churnalism API – on whether the phrases above are more likely to contain passages copied wholesale from press releases, than a general feed of stories from Google News.
(Another research project might involve looking at press releases to identify common phrases used by press officers that might be used by the API)
You may have another opinion of course – or other phrases you might suggest?