This Handy Tool Separates Journalism from Press Releases

Everyone has been in contact with lazy journalism — whether its one article looking a bit too full of market-speak or a group of articles using the same descriptive terms — but it’s always been very difficult to suss out whether it’s a coincidence or a purposeful cut-and-paste job. Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit focusing on governmental transparency, has decided to tackle the problem head-on with its new website, Churnalism.

If you think a particular article looks, well, suspicious, simply paste the link’s URL or  the text directly into Churnalism’s free scanner (or add on a free browser extension) and the tool will match phrases to press releases within its database. The tool scans through many popular PR hubs, including PR Newswire and MarketWire, and it has also revealed it can grab text from Wikipedia and the US government’s websites. You can compare the article side-by-side and see what was lifted from source material — and whether it’s taken out of context.

Check out the video on Churnalism below.

The tool is based on a UK tool with the same name, and both rely on an open source scanner called SuperFastMatch, which was developed by the Media Standards Trust. The Sunlight Foundation will be releasing Churnalism’s API in the future, and those interested in checking out its source code and go to the foundation’s GitHub page.

Small bits of plagiarism — whether it’s copying a sentence from Wikipedia or repurposing buzzwords to describe a hot new product — are a bit problem in online journalism. When everyone is interested in breaking the news first or simply hopping on the news train to stay relevant, it can be very tempting and very easy to just copy down what’s already on the company’s white paper or website. Churnalism is a great tool that reminds journalists that the ethics behind this sort of behavior goes beyond being lazy — it can betray a journalist’s obligation to accurately reporting what’s important (or, at times, even factually accurate).

What do you think of Churnalism? Is it a tool that you would use? Let us know in the comments.