I’ve been muttering under my breath recently about the generally poor standard of writing I’ve been noting in pieces I end up subbing, both at the Guardian and at the Sunday Telegraph. I’m not about to come over all misty-eyed for some long-gone golden age of journalism, because there almost certainly wasn’t one.
However, when an email from this outfit saying pretty much what the link says, lands in my inbox suggesting that I might like to subscribe, I start to understand how the internet, which can be a powerful tool for good journalism and research, can also be a vector for really bad journalism.
For those who haven’t got the time or inclination to click the link, Intelligrate Media offers to deliver to me press releases and pre-written copy that I can cut and paste from (their words, not mine), edit or abridge at will.
I’m flabbergasted. Anyone in a hurry, or lazy, or who simply doesn’t have the intellectual or journalistic wherewithal, can use this and pass it off as journalism. It’s not: it’s what Nick Davies of the Guardian defined in his book, Flat Earth News as “churnalism”, ie the witless, brainless repeating of press releases and pretending it’s news.
I’d go further than that: it’s corrosive of decent journalism and if busy/inexperienced/desperate people subscribe to that kind of service, well, it undermines all of us in journalism. I often find myself defending my profession when people say “the papers are full of lies”. I point out the high standards demanded by, for example, the tabloids, before they run with a story about some Z-list celeb’s private life. We can discuss the ethics of that another time; suffice to say at this point that if you’re the reporter writing a piece about Joe Big Brother’s liking for white powder and prostitutes, preferably at the same time, you’d damn well better have several signed affadavits from people who’ve personally flogged Joe Big Brother the white powder and one or three of the commercial-sector companions.
So perhaps it’s “services” (I’d prefer “disservices”) such as Intelligrate Media that’s undermining the quality of writing I’m seeing. There are other reasons, too, but crap like that undermines us all.