First time I’ve heard the phrase ‘churnalism’ but I instinctively and immediately knew what it meant. The article in question about the coverage of Kim Gordon points out quite a few of the things I’ve been blathering on about here – apart from the important feminist point that why is a woman so multi-faceted and interesting as Kim Gordon defined by her soon-to-be-ex but also the kind of FIRST!ism and laziness that appears for most music blogging and writing today, especially online.
(And WTF is she doing in Elle? Not exactly the bastion of feminist critique, I have to say I did think that, although it is a good article. Like Vice & Buzzfeed doing serious journalism, in the post-blog mediascape there are some strange bedfellows in 2013).
I loved this quote in The Quietus which confirms everything I’ve been saying about music blogging recently. YES! I do like it when what people think are my crazy rantings get separately verified:
hungry for content, content, content, the music website community scrambled to reproduce a small part of it, as if it was some kind of scoop. This sort of thing is not reporting, it’s selective cutting and pasting.
Like the pieces it spawns, this practice is everywhere. When I first started writing for music websites, one of them offered to let me work on their news section. This opportunity excited me – not only was I being offered an outlet for my own writing, I was also being given an opportunity to exercise my journalistic muscles. A few minutes later, however, links to two existing news stories that had recently been published on other sites landed in my inbox. ‘Just rewrite these for us and send them back when you can,’ said the email. ‘Why?’ I thought – ‘What is the point?’
Elsewhere, editors send press releases to writers asking, “Will you write this up?”, the subsequent rewrites are then picked up by other editors, writers rewrite the rewrites and so it goes on until, barely transformed and rarely investigated further, a single snappily written press release has become news, featured on the front page of every website whose readership might have a vague interest in its contents.
Not only do I see this from the press releases that get punted my way (then pop up verbatim elsewhere, pre-written slices of promotional turd for your blog!), I also easily reverse-engineered this from the writing style. The voice of a blogger is like a fingerprint, if they write more than a few posts you get the style. So when someone starts basically doing the music blogging version of copying someone’s homework, it’s easy to spot because it doesn’t read as them, it reads as that awfully perky inoffensive bland pressreleasese. You know, the sort that says ‘Daddy Paid For My Politics And Humanities Degree You Know, But I’m Going To Slum It Here And Rave About Death Grips and Bon Iver To You!!!!’.
If this was relegated to music journalism it would be painful for me, but not earth shattering to the world…but sadly this ‘churnalism’ and tweetcycle is infecting all the news – look at what damage that sub-reddit did to the Boston bombing investigation. Sorry, you don’t get to call out Murdoch & co. for the horrors of Hackgate with Milly Dowler then sit happily behind your computer while you defame and upset the parents of another missing person, Sunil Tripathi? Who has now been found dead in a river for some time, so I hope you all feel real proud of yourselves, Reddit CID?
And then you have the AP hack on Twitter. I mean someone shouts FIRE! and everyone reaches for their cameraphones and tweets about it, it’s embarrassing. I suspect from my experience on Facebook where normally sane people are forwarding and sharing medically dangerous or wrong information just because it panders to their cognitive biases that the horse has not only bolted in that one, it’s become a new line of I Can Haz Cheezburgers.
Crowd-sourcing and this kind of churnalism is making people dumber, not smarter. Yes I think you could utilise the new technology and the mass of people, like the Mechanical Turk I’ve mentioned before, to help out an investigation, but I think it has to be more directed and contributors have to stop thinking they are suddenly in a special program of Reddit C.S.I. and leave the real conclusions to, you know, the trained experts.
And I don’t totally buy the sneering from the dead tree press either, the news cycle was rather cosy and sedate and social media has proved it’s worth during disasters and the news events like Trafigura or Rolf Harris where there was a complete legal blackout. But it does seem that mostly this is not a real desire for informed news, but a prurient nose-thumbing or online lynching, as the sad case of the Boston Sub-reddit has shown – or indeed the less serious but more subtly patriarchal case of press around Kim Gordon’s marriage.
That isn’t news, that’s spying on your neighbour over the fence with high-powered binoculars.