Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter


TV & Radio

May 23, 2012

'Churnalism sweatshop': ABC News journos fear review

The ABC is considering a radical shake-up of its news and current affairs departments, along the lines of a largely untested British model which has been described as a "churnalism sweatshop".


The ABC is considering a radical shake-up of its news and current affairs departments, along the lines of a largely untested British model which has been described as a “churnalism sweatshop”.

The ABC is sitting on the report of the News Gathering Review, which canvasses a dramatic overhaul of the way it commissions and produces news and current affairs. Although the report is not public, snippets have been released in an internal email by the head of ABC News, Kate Torney, and insiders have revealed further details.

Under the new model, the ABC would commission media-neutral stories and reporters would become proficient in all forms of media production in order to deliver reports, commentary and analysis on breaking stories for online, radio and TV.

But ABC news insiders say the model shifts the focus towards “ambulance chasing” and “churnalism” because the emphasis is on breaking stories, rather than developing in-depth reports and analysis.

Under the new approach, which has been described by its proponents as “platform agnostic”, reporters would work right across the corporation and its many news outlets, rather than service individual programs.

The review, led by a pair of British news experts from Venture Consulting, mirrors an idea from the UK, where the BBC is building a new centre to accommodate this new style of newsroom.

Under the plan the ABC would reshape its newsroom around a “Central Input Area” and a “Multi Media Editor”, who would have the role of commissioning stories for all of the ABC’s programs to access.

The “Multi Media Editor” would act as an umpire or adjudicator when programs squabble about who gets access to the reporters assigned to cover particular stories. The model has also been described as a series of “spokes” radiating from a “central hub”.

“It’s along the lines of what we feared,” said one reporter this morning. “The great concern is that it will end up as a restructure and that it will minimise resources for good journalism … [in favour of] ambulance chasing.”

Reporters also fear that resources will be shifted to the channels that continually break stories, such as online, News Radio and News 24, at the expense of current affairs programs that analyse the news in greater depth. One person said that this would place ABC News programming at the mercy of those who control the daily news cycle, as it would always be preoccupied with chasing breaking stories, rather than researching and telling more complex stories.

Another insider told Crikey this morning that he fears quality, specialist programming and the unique brand of many of Aunty’s programs will suffer if the British “churnalism sweatshop” approach is adopted.

Staff have expressed concern about the implications for working conditions as reporters will be assigned to cover stories that will involve reports for online and News 24, as well as research for packaged radio and TV bulletins and current affairs — all while filing updates and doing live crosses for a multitude of programs across the various networks.

Kate Torney’s email confirmed that the new model under consideration would entail:

  • Shared filing and content priorities;
  • Revised allocation of resources;
  • An expanded team of multimedia field producers;
  • Changes to network newsgathering operations;
  • An expanded team of network reporters;
  • A central production desk to reduce duplication of content;
  • A central planning team and coordinated planning functions across the network;
  • A “best practice” newsroom framework.

Her memo also reassured staff that “original journalism is a key point of potential difference for the ABC and should be pursued as a priority”.

There is no date on the likely roll-out of the new model , which will no doubt be hotly debated for several weeks yet.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

34 thoughts on “‘Churnalism sweatshop’: ABC News journos fear review

  1. Limited News

    Could it lead to groupthink as editorial decisions and influence are effectively centralised?

  2. marcfranc

    ABC journalists may actually have to change the way they work because the world is changing! Outragous!

    This article is just a cliche-ridden mix of unsubstantiated ‘fears’ and ‘concerns’ expressed by so-called ‘insiders’.

    I didn’t subscribe to Crikey to read tripe like this.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    I admit that this has seemed to me so achingly obvious that I have long wondered why the ABC and every other multi media news organisation hasn’t adopted it long ago.

    The objections reported here seem to me to be facile and easily handled. Consider a continuous news event such as a hostage or a fire. The ABC could assign a small team of reporters to cover the event as it unfolds for each of its several platforms.

    When the last news report is filed the ABC could commission 1 of the reporters to file an analysis and comment for the Drum and if warranted the team could be retained to prepare a current affairs or documentary for radio or tv while other teams chase ambulances.

  4. Socratease

    The ABC already suffers from churnalism and has done since the Internet took hold.

  5. Timble

    Tend to agree w Marcfranc. Breaking a sweat in an ABC Newsroom would be a rare sight…

  6. bluepoppy

    There is already too much churnalism. What about the length of time it takes to produce investigative reports indicative of shows like Four Corners. If that is lost we are left with the chaff.

    Focus and commitment to gathering all the facts to provide real information enabling the public to make up their own minds is what is lacking already, will this change add to the trend.

    Contrast that with the opinionative journalism where journalists become the ‘celebrity’ rather than the guests or the story. Editorialising and opinion has a place but it has become de rigueur.

  7. roaldan1000

    This policy is already in place isn’t it? I have not heard a radio news bulletin or read a web story from the ABC for months which wasn’t a direct read from an AAP report, a morning newspaper or a press statement from a political party.

    The bulk of resources meanwhile seems to be aimed at five or six “celebrity” presenters who try unsuccessfully to straddle the contradictory role of reporter and commentator and see themselves as players in the game. There also seems to be a unhealthy proportion of resources directed to paying people to tweet word for word grabs from media conferences or make assinine comments about question time.

    Four Corners is meanwhile reduced to one Australian story a month with the rest being picked up from places like the BBC.

  8. amelinixon

    Perhaps the ABC might then have room to employ the talents of journalists who can speak with authority on important issues such as the economy and might then become a source for real news.

    Perhaps journalists will have to ensure that their knowledge of a subject is comprehensive enough to make educated statements. I would like to see that.

    Perhaps, as viewers, our horizons could be widened instead of narrowed by the ‘news experience’.

    I stopped watching a long time ago and started to judge the world out there based upon my own everyday experience.

    No bombs today? Oh that’s good. Weather improved I see, oh good, my money does not seem to be going as far, I wonder why that is, I will have to write to the PM and find out.

    Now there’s a concept.

  9. klewso

    Don’t they send it off to Limited News now – to rendition – on their “follow the leader” views cycle service?

    [See “Sweet and Sour” Sales is back next week too.]

  10. klewso

    Not that it’s “standards” are flying too high at the moment anyway – The Drum featured Peter Reith again as an “expert”, last night.
    Was there ever a greater example of what’s wrong with our politics than is contained in his personal c.v. :- Leader of the House that shafted Halverson for being too even handed; his “phone allowance”; his ministrations behind the wharf dispute, and a “stella career” culminating in his lying about “Children Overboard”?

  11. GocomSys

    What MARCFRANC said.
    Worthwhile posts overall so far. Nothing much to add that hasn’t been said already! I am glad the “trolls” haven’t shown up yet! Wouldn’t it be pleasing if we could finally listen to an ABC Radio National REAL NEWS program instead of the usual “churnalistic” infotainment mix of opinion, gossip and spin?

  12. Andrew Dodd

    Marcfranc, you clearly have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. For a start there are few industries that are subject to more change than the media. ABC journalists have had to keep on changing what they do and the way they do it because the processes of news gathering, production, editing, recording and reporting have all undergone revolutionary change over the last twenty years. Reporters simply don’t survive unless they are flexible enough to stay up with these trends. They have adapted already to staff reductions and significant increases in workload. Reporters now file for multiple platforms, while researching reporting and interviewing in the field on fluid stories and often in trying circumstances. I wonder whether you would cut it in such a crazy stressful, deadline-driven work environment, where your snide and ill-informed commentary would get you nowhere? As for the “fears” and “concerns” that you obviously disparage, I can assure you they are genuinely felt by people who work inside the ABC. Yes, that makes them real insiders.

  13. David McRae

    4Corners, Catalyst, MediaWatch, RNScienceShow would be missed.

    The rest, I had already thought they sourced their copy from LNP Pressers and IPA handouts. You would think for example, they’d get a climate scientist to explain the science rather than Clive Palmer or someone from the IPA if Clive was unavailable. And recently, they got an anti-vaccination crowd to comment on the possible mutation of pertusis.

    So I was saddened they increased the ABC budget in last budget. I’m all for flogging it off and the proceeds used to set up an national broadcaster that is bound to follow a charter of not bullshitting.

  14. shepherdmarilyn

    For a decade or more the ABC has started every second story with “the opposition says”.

  15. marcfranc


    Your quotes from ‘insiders’ gave a strong impression of people unable to cope with a level of change that millions of Australians are facing. This may not be fair on ABC staff, but if so the fault’s with you.

    No, I’ve never worked for the ABC, but I have been a reporter on a Fairfax daily broadsheet and the experience in that sweatshop prepared me well for ‘crazy stressful, deadline-driven’ work environments (which are not uncommon outside the media). Your insiders’ fears and concerns wouldn’t get a run in Crikey if they came from any other industry.

    As a paying subscriber, I expect intelligent and objective analysis from the perspective of the media consumer, not special pleading from the producers. Unfortunately, this type of navel gazing is all too common on Crikey.

    If your insiders can’t cope, I suggest they get a job outside the ABC – good communicators are scarce in business and the public service. There’s no shortage of bright and energetic young people ready to take their place.

  16. AR

    ABC NewsRadio was established,… 10 years ago?.., as a
    rip’n’read news service. With its 15 mins. cycle, the only time one hears anything of import is on the w/e when it switches to Deutsche Welle, Radio Nederlands & BBC.
    At ALL other times it is simply RPH of Mudorc.

  17. Bill Hilliger

    @SHEPERDMARYLIN 6:31 you make a good point there.

  18. Clements Simon

    Agree with David McRae. And having Chris Uhlemann front the ABC major current events programmes tells us that talent is as thin at the ABC as it has ever been. Probably only there because he is male but certainly makes Kerry O’Brian look a superstar. As for researching and telling more complex stories. I wish. Where are these complex stories they are researching
    and telling now or over the past couple of years.
    Andrew if you don’t enjoy the so called stress, get out of it. Half the people are always going to complain so you need to enjoy the deadline routine and develop a thick skin.
    With their current love affair with Palmer, Sloan, Reith, Savva any review shake-up that removes theses squares from the screen is an improvement.

  19. DF

    Each night I turn on The Drum on ABCNews24 in optimism that maybe tonight… As soon as I see Judith Sloan, Peter Reith or Sue Cato, I switch off. Simple as that.
    I used to watch 7.30 Report religiously – now, I watch the start and usually there is nothing of interest or nothing being tackled in an interesting way so … meh.
    Lateline…. ditto.

    Mark Scott was right when he spoke about Grog’s Gamut offering so much more than his own network during the last election. Unfortunately, I suspect he and his management are the source of the problem. These days, I go to the blogs and the international news and current affairs sites. It saddens me because I used to believe in the ABC as an important national institution and asset, and I would defend it against all comers, but I’ve now reached the point of giving up. I just don’t care anymore because I don’t believe ABC News/Current Affairs is any longer adding any value to my knowledge or understanding about things. It has become mediocre at best, destructive at worst, and consistently meaningless.

  20. AR

    DF – as you say! I have ABC on during waking hours, radio throughout the day but only listen to the TV for 7pm & 7.30, rather than watch unless something specific grabs my interest but that occurs less & less often.
    Good bye Auntie, in anger as well as sorrow, I am just so disgusted but it’s not only local – even the BBC has become a pale shadow of its former self, R4 and the World Service. R5 is a nasty amalgam of talkback & rip’n’read but still better than nowt, but only just.

  21. Timble

    Like the sound of the untested British model. Like Insiders too… just goes to show what the ABC can do when it uses journalists from outside the ABC

  22. GocomSys

    My personal take on this: We find ourselves in a 24 hour opinion and spin cycle. I would like to be able to switch on ABC Radio National and be provided with an hourly NEWS update that passes the following criteria :
    1. It needs to be relevant and in the national interest,
    2. Must be presented by newsreader and reporters only,
    3. Must never contain opinions of any kind.
    It must be left to the listener to make up their mind and come to their own conclusions. Why is it so difficult for the National tax payer funded broadcaster to distinguish between FACT and FICTION (opinions)? Shouldn’t be too hard to see the difference. There is to my knowledge currently no NEWS service available anywhere in Australia. Is that too much to ask for? What do you think?

  23. monkeywrench

    Will this change the approach of ABC NewsRadio on 1026am in Melbourne, where they rush for comment to either a Coalition mouthpiece, or a journalist from News Ltd (usually The Australian)? I hope so, for I have grown heartily sick of the one-way street that is their political coverage.Mind you, no breath-holding over it….

  24. Karen

    AD:”The ABC is considering a radical shake-up of its news and current affairs departments, along the lines of a… “churnalism sweatshop””.

    Err, I thought News 24, in particular, was already using the model. I keep thinking, I’ve read those stories and seen those angles before, only to remind myself that they came from the Daily Tele online the night before.

    And its not only the news but the body language of the presenters that irritate me on News 24. Now that I’m on the topic, I’m irritated by Karina Karv (or whatever her name is) who flashes her teeth when there is a story about Gina topping the world richest woman list and stares stony faced and disinterested at the Amnesty International spokes person who slam dunks her inane question about people smuggler business models and profiteering (like today). She needs to be a little more subtle about her political bias.

  25. Stiofan


    “good communicators are scarce in business and the public service”

    That’s true, but it doesn’t follow that there is any demand for good communicators in those sectors.

    What I see on a daily basis are the writings of flacks whose lack of literacy is painfully obvious, in both their grammatical howlers and the semantic messes that they serve up to the public. The fact that they infest most areas of business and the public service is proof that the people who make decisions in those sectors are not really interested in employing good communicators. Indeed, I suspect that their employers, in many cases, don’t have a clue what good communication skills actually are.

  26. Steven Warren

    So essentially here we have an Australian journalist trying to convince us that the quality of Australian journalism can actually decrease?

    I have actual tears of laughter here….

    or is that despair?

  27. klewso

    Alas, the ABC has been “Murdochtrinated”?

  28. GocomSys

    Another thing. Isn’t it just about time to get rid of the dead tree variety of publishing? If somebody can’t live without indoctrination there certainly is enough of the digital kind available!
    Lets start saving our forests and stop wasting our money on hard copies! What do you reckon?

  29. Stickey

    ABC News has become shallow with only 6 stories being endlessly cycled even into the next day. It is Sydney centric with the vast regions left unattended. Despite reporters being “inland” only coastal and occasional mind numbing stuff about urban America end up in front of the consumer. Re-cycling a daily newspaper story around 8.30am on some post brekky programme is just plain dull boring useless stuff. What happened to fresh journalism or has the mobile phone in the hands of a citizen done that for us? Yes, despair prevails as the parliamentary gallery continues to ignore the workings of parliament and dispense provocative gossip.

  30. Matty Soccio

    Only a business or marketing executive could come up with a term like ‘media-neutral stories’.

  31. franmolloy

    Ah, a radical overhaul of the ABC’s entire journalism structure using a never-before-seen concept dreamed up by a pair of overseas “experts” from a company with the word “Consulting,” who no doubt have MBAs and a clever turn of meaningless phrase – “platform agnostic,” for example. Excellent idea. I’m sure they will be paid well for their efforts, then turn tail & scarper before the place collapses around the damp patches behind their ears.

  32. MaggieP

    Corrupt from stem to stern. The ABC section on Expendable.TV reveals a level of censorship and propagandistic output which Goebbels couldn’t improve on.

    Oh… oops… forgot… Crikey are censoring it too!

  33. Owen Gary

    Just what we need more quantities of biased crap & less quality stories, do these expert overseas journos report to dear ole Rupert by any chance????

    I used to love the old ABC before they went down the path of Sex, Videotape & Lies. So how do you corporatise a public owned media outlet without paying for it 1st???

    It’s another “Lord of the Rings Sequel” to Murdor we will take you!!!

Leave a comment


https://www.crikey.com.au/2012/05/23/churnalism-sweatshop-abc-news-journos-fear-review-outcomes/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.