Churnalism versus Journalism

Apparatus used to irradiate mice

Apparatus used to irradiate mice

The web endlessly repackages stories, each site copying from another, adding or removing content in order to make the ‘story’ its own – churnalism rather journalism. By the time one reads a story, it can be hard to find the original source of the ‘story’. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I came across a very specific example earlier this while I was trying to track down the source of the ‘Mobile Phones cure Alzheimer’s’ story that ran in several papers. Try comparing these two reports:

Both similar reports and the BBC has a nice interview with the good Dr Arendash. However you will find it hard to follow up the BBC story. The web links are to institutions rather than specific pages and are the internet equivalent of a dead end. To follow up the story and get to the source of it all I had to trawl through the google news stories until I found the Business Week story. This story has (a) a named author and (b) a list of its sources. The last pargraph reads:

SOURCES: Gary Arendash, Ph.D., research professor, Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, University of South Florida, Tampa; Michael Palm, M.D., assistant professor, neuroscience and experimental therapeutics and internal medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, College Station, Texas, and director, Parkinson’s and Headache programs, Texas Brain and Spine Institute, Bryan, Texas; Jan. 6, 2010, news release, Alzheimer’s Association; Jan. 6, 2010, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease

This provided enough data for me to get in touch with Dr. Arendash and obtain a copy of the original paper. Having read the paper I have exchanged a couple of e-mails with Dr. Arendash and asked him some questions about the research and I will report on that when we come to a resolution. Briefly, it seems the beneficial effects of the exposure to radio frequency radiation are accompanied by a temperature rise in the mice, a rise which is well in excess of what could be caused directly by the  heating effect of the radio frequency exposure. Understanding the origin of this will probably unravel the cause of the effects he has observed.

But the point I want to make here is that by quoting the sources of the information Business Week allowed me to follow this up, but the BBC’s information wasn’t enough. For me that makes the Business Week story real journalism, while the BBC story borders on churnalism. Since I have paid for the BBC story I feel sad that their standards are not higher.

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