News’ Reliance on PR and Wire Services

News organisations and journalists are becoming less “active gatherers of news” and more “processors of […] second-hand materials”, suggests a surprising study conducted by researchers at Cardiff University.

Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News, commissioned the research and provides a brief overview of this study on the state of current media reporting:

Specialists at Cardiff University […] surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found two striking things. First, when they tried to trace the origins of their “facts”, they discovered that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. With 8% of the stories, they just couldn’t be sure. The remaining 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry. Second, when they looked for evidence that these “facts” had been thoroughly checked, they found this was happening in only 12% of the stories. […]

And the Cardiff researchers found one other key statistic that helps to explain why this has happened. For each of the 20 years from 1985, they dug out figures for the editorial staffing levels of all the Fleet Street publications and compared them with the amount of space they were filling. They discovered that the average Fleet Street journalist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985. In other words, as a crude average, they have only one-third of the time that they used to have to do their jobs. Generally, they don’t find their own stories, or check their content, because they simply don’t have the time.

The study (subscription required) didn’t just look at the reporting of newspapers, however: radio and television news (BBC Radio 4, BBC News, ITV News and SkyNews) provided similar results, with the researchers concluding that this reliance “seems set to continue, if not increase, in the near future”.

The Quality and Independence of British Journalism (pdf)–another of the output reports from the study–is freely available and offers more detail if you need it (and will most likely answer any questions).

A similar study was conducted in Australia with similar findings.

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