Occupational Churn Out

Seen on the TheStreet’s job posting for a digital journalist:

Ability to very quickly churn out error-free content.

That word “churn.” What message does it send to prospective applicants, presumably writers who care about their words the way mother wolverines care about their kits, when they see they are tasked with churning out content?

I thought they were being glib, but I read on:

Be a quick reader and writer, with the ability to churn out 10-15 short-form articles/day

Ten to 15 articles a day?  That’s … that’s a lot. The posting isn’t specific about how short their short-forms are, but if they are much longer than a Tweet, then TheStreet is probably churning–and burning–out more than content.

The phrase “churn out,” in the sense of generating words, first appeared in 1902, near as I can tell in the Northern Advocate, a New Zealand daily (that still exists):

Ne’er again will I ‘churn out of a dream miasmatic vapour of words’…

We know that “churn” has something to do with a tedious labor that produces butter. I didn’t know that “churn rate” was also a thing: the amount of customers or subscribers that a company or publication loses over time.  Maybe TheStreet has a churn rate of writers (the job listing was posted in February–perhaps they’ve already churned through a few people not up to the task of generating endless content).

But “churn” has another meaning, which might be somewhat applicable to a publication like TheStreet. It is a brokerage term that refers to the practice of to making “(the account of a client) excessively active by frequent purchases and sales primarily in order to generate commissions.”

That sounds a bit underhanded, to put it kindly.  I wonder what would happen if a digital journalist for TheStreet focused on that single phenomenon, and wrote exclusively on brokers who churned their clients. Would that churn out 10 ~ 15 articles a day?






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