Back in February, I discussed a book called Flat Earth News.Â If you still haven’t read this book, please do so.Â You will find yourself nodding your head and agreeing with so much of it; the book is all the more powerful because it is written by a journalist about journalism.Â The snowball started by Nick Davies has now grown, The Churner Prize is the latest result of the book.Â On the FAQ page, there is a video of an interview/discussion with Davies.
So what is The Churner Prize (apart from being a pun on “The Turner Prize”)? Well, the Why? Page has a go at answering the question.Â Basically, a huge chunk of news out there isn’t news, it’s simply press releases from companies or rehashes of older stories put out simply because the story is relevant to a new program or documentary.Â Sadly, few people recognise these rehashes because we are all used to the news being packaged and delivered to us and we accept that it is both news and new without question.
In Flat Earth News, Davies highlights a news story which appears in UK papers every time the World Cup is nearing.Â It tells us that an average member of the public is planning to take out an insurance policy to cover the emotional trauma he will feel if England loses.Â (For anyone reading along, in the hard back copy this is on page 49).Â The book says:
A few weeks before the start of the 2006 football World Cup, the Press Association in London put out a story about an England fan named Paul Hucker, from Ipswich, who was so worried about the risk of England failing in the tournament that he had paid Â£100, plus Â£5 tax, to insure himself against emotional trauma.
The PA story explained that, if England went down badly and he could provide medical evidence that he had suffered severe medical trauma, Mr Hucker would receive a payout of Â£1 million from a web-based insurance company, called britishinsurance.com. ‘I find when it comes to penalty shoot-outs it gets very difficult and I wanted to insure myself against psychological trauma,’ Mr Hucker was said to have said.
This is a relatively harmless story, it’s clearly a bit of an ad but the sad thing is that every time a story like this arises (usually via the wire service), journalists and editors run it, untouched, every single time.Â For the price of a Â£100 (plus Â£5 tax) policy, the insurance company has an huge ad series run in every newspaper.Â How much would a genuine ad campaign of that size cost?Â A quick Google (or similar search engine) for “Paul Hucker Insurance” will show that this is something that he is known for.Â Journalists, not readers, should do this sort of sanity checking.
So how can you help?Â If you see stories that are clearly nonsense or rehashes or press releases, let them know at their contact mail address (churner prize AT gmail DOT com – in case of harvesters, I don’t want them spammed).Â Start something similar in your own country – the problem is endemic throughout the world as the major companies take over more and more news outlets and cut back on staff.Â The fewer journalists and fact checkers there are, the more chance there is of this continuing.Â Read the Private Eye (or similar local investigative/satirical magazines) – basically, educate yourself and others.Â It’s not enough to privately scoff at crap news, we should hold the publishers’ feet to the fire and force them to print real news impartially.