Editorial: On “Churnalism” and Town Public Relations

in Editorials

On September 4, like many local residents, I opened a news story on a local media outlet, only to receive the same news story the next day in an email from the Town of Old Lyme.

It’s not clear whether the story was written by town staff and forwarded in advance to the media outlet, or whether the media outlet wrote the story and it was later forwarded to residents by the Town of Old Lyme.

Both stories are word-for-word the same, and neither are attributed, so it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg.

On the one hand, it’s a fairly innocuous bit of public relations, and politicking before the coming election. The story does not differ significantly from our own story that appeared earlier on the previous day.

But it’s a blurring of lines — dubbed “churnalism,” by journalist Nick Davies to describe a practice more commonly attributed to tobacco companies, pharmaceutical interests, and the Bush-era Department of Defense — which inevitably undermines the independence and integrity of the press, and represents a misuse of public resources.

We strongly encourage town governments to refrain from the practice.


Note that the story on Lymeline has been edited to identify the material as a press release