Is It Journalism, or Just a Repackaged Press Release? Here's a Tool to Help You Find Out - Rebecca J. Rosen - The Atlantic
Today, the Sunlight Foundation has unveiled a tool that will help us all with this work. "The tool is, essentially, an open-source plagiarism detection engine," web developer Kaitlin Devine explained to me. It will scan any text (a news article, e.g.) and compare it with a corpus of press releases and Wikipedia entries. If it finds similar language, you'll get a notification of a detected "churn" and you'll be able to take a look at the two sources side by side. You can also use it to check Wikipedia entries for information that may have come from corporate press releases. The tool is based on a similar project released in the United Kingdom two years ago, which the Sunlight Foundation supported with a grant to make it open source. Churnalism will be available both on the website and as a browser extension. Its database of press releases includes those from EurekaAlert! in addition to PR Newswire, PR News Web, Fortune 500 companies, and government sources.
One byproduct of this method is that Churnalism will find text that has been quoted from speeches. Although such quotations are not examples of churnalism per se, Devine says that that information will be helpful to readers too, showing them the context a quote appeared in, and giving them the chance to think about why a reporter selected a particular passage from all of the others.
In general, according to Devine, "science press releases seem to get more plagiarized than others." For example, the Sunlight Foundation points to a CBS News article from last fall which shares several phrases -- typically information-laced descriptions such as the list "found in hard plastics, linings of canned food, dental sealants" -- with a press release from EurekaAlert!, as the Churnalism tool's results show. Devine speculates that science journalism may run into this problem more frequently because "the language around the findings in those is so specific that it becomes very hard to reinterpret it."