'Tis the season, as this week’s SITP – Online guest Britt Hermes points out in the blurb for her talk, for spookiness, and the tabloids are, as usual, full of it. One such story from earlier in the year indicates, however, that these stories are not always all that they seem, and that furthermore, there may something insidious lurking underneath their publication.
This particular spooky story consists of an uninspired photo of pareidolia, which even the usualy sensationalist MailOnline couldn’t seem to muster much interest in, padded out to article length with tall tales of a young mother and her children being harassed by a ghost, which if true would surely be the worst experience the woman’s life.
Suspicions were, however, aroused when later in the week that self-same young mother appeared in The Mirror, The Daily Star and UNILAD relating the worst experience of her life, which was being handed a clearly labelled sex toy by her postman, without a single mention of the spectral entity that she previously claimed has been physically assaulting her children.
A quick perusal of the picture credits indicate that the subject of the stories may well have found a way to supplement her income, while on maternity leave from her supermarket job, by selling stories to the papers through media agencies set up to craft and distribute pre-packaged articles to time and resource starved journalists on the lookout for quick and safe pieces to publish.
Churnalism such as this isn’t just limited to the tabloids, but has been found by researchers to contribute up to 80% of the stories appearing in the UK’s quality press, and the Daily Mail. What makes these stories particularly insidious is that they often appear, as in this case, under bylines which obfuscate their real origins and seek to legitimise them as genuine reporting.