Cut & Paste Journalism?

Is it even ‘journalism’ anymore?

Recently I’ve criticised the state of journalism in Bermuda, which I see as currently demoralised, under-resourced and overwhelmed by PR personnel.

One particular problem resulting from this is that the journalists we still have just simply do not have the time to do their due diligence and actually indulge in journalism itself.

Just say no to cut-and-paste 'journalism'.

Just say no to cut-and-paste ‘journalism’.

And by this I mean they just aren’t able to be investigating stories, asking questions and keeping key stakeholders, particularly the Government accountable, primarily by actually asking informed questions and being tenacious in chasing the answers.

To me this is exemplified by the rise of a ‘cut and paste’ journalism, where press releases are printed almost in their entirety, perhaps somewhat re-arranged, and this constitutes the whole of the article.

To me, that’s not journalism – it’s ‘churnalism’.  

At best it’s a slightly creative re-ordering of something a PR person has prepared.

While that can be useful in itself for juxtaposing contradictions within a body of text, more often than not it’s just sloppy on the part of those claiming to be journalists.

An article in today’s RG illustrates this…

Bernews, which is more a platform for press releases and allows for online media generation through the comments, tends to provide the entire press releases or statements in question, fully credited.  It doesn’t claim to do otherwise, unlike the RG, now our only newspaper, which is supposed to have a different model, including journalism.

By comparing stories carried between Bernews – which makes it clear it’s simply posting the press releases and allow users to comment – and the RG, which is supposed to provide a journalistic approach, one can see how much RG is relying on a ‘cut and paste’ approach to ‘journalism’.

The RG’s article in question doesn’t delve deeper into the issue in question; it doesn’t ask questions, it doesn’t answer questions.  Indeed, one wonders if it can ethically be considered a novel article by the reporter due to it basically being re-organised plagiarism.

I need to stress here, I’m not attacking the reporter in question.

I’m attacking the institutional failure of journalism here, the lack of direction and maintenance of journalistic integrity, largely arising from being under-resourced and demoralised, partly arising out of the editorial and organisational instability at the RG today.

This increasing reliance on ‘cut and paste’ is a symptom of the problems of journalism today.

Due to the crucial importance of journalism in informing the people within a democracy, even ‘equal opportunity’ cut and paste journalism serves to undermine our democracy by failing to stimulate critical though or reveal new facts about the story.

This article is just one example, I need to stress that too.

With less and less media choice available to Bermudians, the increasing non-journalism should concern us all.

We need:

  • A national conversation about replacing the failing economic model of journalism in Bermuda, including the potential for the public subsidising of journalism as a public good.
  • The journalists at the RG need to take a stand and force management to provide them resources and support they need to actually do journalism.
  • The ‘consulting editor’ needs to take a stand FOR better journalism.  The buck should stop with the editor.  I understand that as a ‘consulting editor’ he is in a weak position.  However, failure to act is doing more harm to his credibility, and the credibility of journalism in Bermuda as a whole.
  • The RG needs to make clear what their policy is regarding online comments.  It’s approach so far has been arbitrary.
  • The Media Council, as impotent and unstable as it is rapidly becoming, needs to take a stand against ‘cut and paste’ journalism and the decline of journalistic standards in Bermuda as a whole.

Speaking of the Media Council, it’s Code of Conduct is useful here.

Section 3(g) states:

“Media outlets must clearly distinguish for the audience the difference between advertising, advertorial  and news.”

A cut and paste job of a PR statement – is that news, advertising or advertorial?

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7 thoughts on “Cut & Paste Journalism?

  1. Well the state of journalism has always been at a disadvantage beset with political patronage; often hand in glove with conservative political elements and government in this country. Very limited investigate reporting of the news and now with one print entity; we will see it disappear altogether unless it something to do with the political opposition. Has no pride or willingness to establish itself as an independent news gathering institution such as we in other countries with a free press. Unless we see the development of such occurrence Bermuda is unlikely to join the rest of the world in this regard when it comes to free and unfettered journalism.

  2. “With less and less media choice available to Bermudians, the increasing non-journalism should concern us all”.

    You are right – it should concern us all, but I am not sure it does for the bulk of people.

    I become more and more concerned at just how lazy people are when it comes to “thinking” something through, preferring instead to read something they are comfortable with and which then works to confirm their bias because of that.

    And it has to be said, that some of the political garbage that is being put out there of late, sits comfortably with that. A sort of “feed them this – they will like it” approach.

    The real losers here are those who are capable and willing to take a critical view of a situation and think it through. The PLP swing voters I would think fall into that category. Yet we see very little intelligent comment coming from the PLP in partiicular – just emotive pieces written for the benefit of voters who will always vote PLP in any event. And the OBA is not blame free either.

    The political polarisation here is so strong, I doubt their would be an appetite for serious, quality journalism.

    I also wonder – even with a monopoly which the RG now has – whether they can afford quality investigative journalists..

  3. Mr Starling is spot on here, unfortunately it is a worldwide issue caused in part by the recession (Less ad spend, less revenue, less people) but also by newspaper companies chasing enormous profit margins that are not sustainable unless people (the biggest spend of a newspaper company) go. As a result there are fewer journalists filling more space so cut and paste journalism becomes the norm.
    Then there is the issue of speed. It is vital for a newspaper to be first, getting it first means you get the web hits or the newspaper sales – that again adds enormous pressure to an already overstretched news room staff.
    Investigative journalism is enormously time consuming and expensive – so given the above we are not likely to see much of that, anywhere.
    However, given all that – and it does apply to Bermuda as well – the RG itself is hopelessly top heavy – it has a consulting editor, three deputy editors and a picture editor and then there are the sub-editors. The fact that it has not had a proper editor for more than 18 months does not help stability either as it is difficult for a consulting editor to give directions when a new, permanent editor might come in and change things all over again.
    Mr Starling makes the point of the news staff making a stand – they cannot. They are not unionized, they have families, they have rent etc and are therefore in a very weak position to change things. He makes the point of getting more resources – that will not happen at the RG while ad spending continues to be down (tho see my above point on the number of editors and they could reassign some resources to where it matters most.)
    Re online comments – I see that the RG has been putting editors notes at the end of some stories to explain why they are not allowing comments. They are liable for anything defamatory and I imagine monitoring them takes time – but see my point above about the number of editors and sub editors….)
    Re the Media Council – I don’t know enough about this organization to make a proper comment, but I would say that if an overseeing body exists then it has a duty to get newspaper editors/owners/ etc together to have a frank discussion about the quality of news reporting.

  4. Pingback: An interesting take on journalism in Bermuda | Bermuda Blue

  5. I am seriously concerned by at the frequency at which The Royal Gazette prevents comments from stories on its website. While there are sometimes legitimate reasons for doing so, I find myself asking over and over ‘what is the legitimate reason for not allowing comments on this story?’

    The Royal Gazette has severe legacy issues and by banning comments on so many stories, the paper now comes across as being elitist where a few of the elite put out their words but the general public is blocked from responding.

  6. Digger…

    Not sure to what extent EU judgments affect Bermuda, but:

    “Seven top European Union judges have ruled that a leading Internet news website is legally responsible for offensive views posted by readers in the site’s comments section. The European Court of Human Rights found that Estonian courts were within their rights to fine Delfi, one of the country’s largest news websites, for comments made anonymously about a news article, according to a judgment”.

    http://www.computerworld.com.au/article/528799/eu_court_holds_news_website_liable_readers_comments/

  7. There are lots of good thoughts here. Re Gazette staff taking a stand for more resources (and there are a lot of excellent journalists at the Gazette), the truth is that there is no money for that. The death of the Sun may improve the Gazette’s financial position in the long run but like many newspapers around the world, the economic model has changed irrevocably.
    That leaves the idea of public subsidies and although it has its critics, the BBC uses its public subsidy pretty well. But the risk of being turned into a political tool is huge. Even CITV here has had its struggles with this.

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