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Churnalism and plagiarism?

If I copied and pasted parts of a scientific article into a blog post, and passed it off as my own writing, what would you say about that? I hope that everyone would be appalled. What about if it was from a press release? This is something that is clearly intended for consumption by the media, but if I copy, paste and claim it is my own writing what would that be called?

This is called science churnalism:


“Churnalism is an article that is published as journalism, but is essentially a press release without much added” (From FAQ of http://www.churnalism.com)


I encourage everyone to read the Guardian article on the topic, and to visit www.churnalism.com. It is a site that compares text from news articles and press releases and highlights where text has been copied and pasted. I think it could be a very useful resource, but an additional manual check of the comparison is probably necessary to weed out false positives.

For example, an article “Baby blues: It takes 18 months for a new mother to ‘feel like a woman again’” from the Daily Mail was reported to be ’97 % pasted’. However upon examination of the article itself I could not find many of the passages that churnalism.com claimed to find. Another article where I struggled to find manually matching passages is Drinking grape juice can reduce memory loss: Daily Mail.

However, to give examples where churnalism.com works fine and dandy: I present you with

Dinosaur discovery: new ‘thunder-thighs’ dinosaur discovered by British scientists: Daily Telegraph
Forget Mars and Venus: men and woman are on the same planet: Daily Telegraph
Teachers blame social networking websites for low grades and poor concentration: Mail Online

What do I think on it? As has been previously mentioned, journalism as a whole is subject to enormous time pressures and to be the first to publish. That is probably close to being something of a truism. Science journalism is no different but in my mind, copying passages verbatim from a press release is no different from plagiarism. Copying from a press release and not acknowledging this makes it very difficult to determine where reported information is coming from. I’ll leave you with a quote from Martin Robbins, who puts what he thinks of Churnalism better than I could:


“There’s nothing wrong with curating content to pass on for a wider audience – Ed Yong and I do that daily on Twitter – but if journalists aren’t contributing original reporting, or providing context, or challenging statements made by university press officers, or even just adding informed opinion, then they’re not really doing journalism. At a time when we need to develop new models to support professional journalism online, that may not be a wise path to travel too far down.” (From Guardian article 25/04/11)

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