Coined by a journalist, the term "churnalism" hints at the daily grind of the newsroom (also known as the "sausage factory") and presents a rather bleak future for the news media. It is interesting to note that the public relations industry has its own term for this kind of reporting: ROI journalism -- Return on Investment journalism. It’s a strategy that acknowledges the pressures journalists are facing and in so doing, has led PRs to change the way it delivers its product by making it more comprehensive and attractive to the media , ensuring a return on the time and resources both parties have invested. This way the journalist (and  editor) get the story, and the PR secures the client the media attention for which it was angling. Tactics include providing direct quotes and appointed "topic experts" on the issue for time-pressed journalists who may be unable to do the interviews or seek theor own sources. The truth is that public relations professionals have used the current economic climate to their advantage and are tailoring information to suit journalists’ needs so that clients gain the most coverage possible -- and journalists are lapping it up. While print journalists are wringing their hands at the "death of the newspaper", PRs such as Tom Buchan from Buchan Consulting still view the print medium as important to their work because newspapers "are the opinion shapers". Buchan executive director Tom Buchan has observed two trends over the past five years. The first is the accelerated flow of information for  senders (PRs) and receivers (the print media), which coincides with an increase in outsourcing to public relations companies. The result  is that the print media has an increased dependence on the "intermediaries", the PRs. "These two trends are working in concert," Buchan said. When asked what strategies are employed to make sure his stories are run, given that there are less journalists around to write them, Buchan said:
"We find we have to do the checking and researching of information that traditionally was done by the print journalists … to verify that what they receive is accurate and truthful. The media is relying on what I call intermediaries to be almost topic experts. In the past, journalists had their own contacts and were able to follow up with three or four other people, now they’re relying on our service."
It seems that some journalists are allowing PR to do their job for them, relying on spin doctors to check facts on their behalf.  According to Buchan, the press release, while still useful for events such as stock market announcements, cannot contain the detail level required by journalists -- allowing PRs to cross the line into traditional journalists’ territory and provide tailored information. "Increasingly we provide a 'backgrounder' to provide the journo with background info on any topic of the client we represent," Buchan said. "So we’ve ticked the newsworthiness box, done the research, and provided contact details of relevant experts." From a PR strategic point of view, going the "extra mile" ensures that the topic is easily accessible to a journo who doesn’t know anything about the industry or sector he’s writing about. "It depends on time constraints -- sometimes info is run almost verbatim, depending on the checking on our side," Buchan said. If this is true, PRs have graduated from the role of intermediary, to becoming sources in their own right. But can a journalist know whether the material provided has been "checked" properly by someone who has a vested commercial interest in that information? Buchan assures that the reliability of information distributed by PRs is based upon the reputation of the company in question. "It’s a matter of trust and a matter of our credibility," he told the ACIJ. But according to the man The Australian calls the  master of spin, Mike Smith, it’s not the job of the PR to be balanced or neutral -- that is the responsibility of the media. A former editor of The Age from 1989 until 1992, Smith now runs his own media relations company, Inside Public Relations, which specialises in crisis management.  "My job is to put forward my client’s side of the story -- my job is not to be fair," he said. "My job is to advocate for the client, and as long as that is understood clearly by me and the journalist I can have a pretty healthy relationship and a very ethical relationship with the journalist." A key strategy identified by Tom Buchan is positioning the client according to newsworthy "megatrends" so that the story pitched to journalists is consistent with the current news agenda.  The global financial crisis is one of these megatrends. "The GFC is an example for providing a context in which a story lives. We see that as a background setting if you like, of a story. At a time when media was obsessing on what that [the GFC] meant for Australia, it provided a context in which information could be presented," Buchan said. One of Buchan’s GFC-themed stories generated 150 separate articles in a five-week period. Prushka, the firm’s client, is a debt collection agency representing several private schools suing parents for unpaid school fees. A trend, Buchan told the news media, that had risen by 25% with the onset of the financial crisis. The story was pitched as an "insight into a structural manifestation of the crisis" which helped position the client as "part economic commentator and part advocate for the rights of parents and schools":

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The coverage of this issue was very similar, the same sources being recycled by different media outlets. These included spokespeople from the Association of Independent Schools in NSW and Victoria, as well, the headmasters of the schools concerned -- Prushka’s clients.

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