Posts Tagged ‘media’
Zembla is a Dutch television program which regularly broadcasts in-depth documentaries. Over the years, they have brought to attention various important incidents and topics. Unfortunately, the quality and accuracy of these documentaries varies wildly. The editing is often shoddy and sensationalist.
A good example is their last episode, on the long-term health risks of cell phones. It is one-sided, gets the science wrong and is narrated with an alarmist tone that is impossible to justify.
One of my best kept secrets is that in a previous life, I was involved in the dirty business of journalism. Together with two friends I wrote for and edited the gossip bi/tri-weekly in our primary school class.
Every couple of weeks (we promised it would be every fortnight, but that was too ambitious) for about two years we would gather roughly 5 or 6 paragraphs of gossip, interviews and other interesting tidbits of information, and arrange it neatly on two sheets of A4 paper. After photocopying all of this on the school copier we would then distribute it among our subscribers. A subscription was 25 cents per edition (each page copy was 10 cents, the 5 cents extra per subscriber was used for overhead). The majority of our class was subscribed. Years later we found out that a fair number of parents also read us because their children would bring the paper home.
After a recent evening in the pub together we dug up our archives. It’s amazing to see how much business sense and creativity we had as 11-year-olds. That said, the quality of the writing is appalling, most of the articles are as short as one or two paragraphs and the spelling makes me cry.
The stories we ran were mostly interviews with classmates and teachers, comments on general human behaviour, news related to the school and general gossip about which girls liked which boys and vice verse (unlike most gossip papers we would usually check before publishing something). One of the more daring pieces talks about the legality of one of the games we played in the weekly gym class. Apparently (or so we had heard) it was very dangerous and outlawed, but we didn’t actually bother to check whether that was actually the case.
One of the most appalling things about current day news broadcasting are the “man on the street interviews” and, more recently, the social media blurbs and email sent in by viewers. Sometimes it can be useful to provide some context by showing what the general public thinks about an issue. But picking between 3 and 10 people off the street in a busy shopping mall and asking them for their opinion is in no way representative, and so I don’t fucking care what they think.
This Mitchell and Webb sketch captures it all brilliantly:
I’ve ranted about the low quality of todays journalism before.
Television producers Woestijnvis in Belgium (known for – among other things – the excellent Neveneffecten) tested the Belgian media by sending out a few press releases about research they had pulled out of their ass. Only in a very few cases did journalists even bother to call for more information (and when they didn’t get a response, they would publish anyway). Most major newspapers simply published a front-page article based on the single dodgy press release alone. No callbacks, no further research, nothing.
Shoddy science journalism strikes again. Even the NRC has an absurd headline, suggesting the existence of extraterrestrial life on earth.
Speaking as a layman, the research seems interesting enough – but there’s no reason to go all X-Files on us.
I took a trial subscription on NRC Next, the edition of the NRC Handelsblad paper targeted at the internet generation. In other words: a daily newspaper in tabloid format with lots of short articles, and more articles on Hip New Things™ than its parent publication. The NRC has the name of being a high quality news paper, so I was quite surprised and annoyed to discover a rather bad article on astrology today.
Granted, it’s a slow news week and technically their article was about an astrology society, but that doesn’t mean a proper journalist shouldn’t at least ask some hardline questions. Instead what they printed was an easy human-interest interview in which the astrologers get the opportunity to make unsubstantiated claims about how wonderful their nonsense is.