Category Archives: news

The Scientific Journalism Formula

In a near-per­fect par­ody of sci­ence report­ing in the pop­u­lar press, Mar­tin Robbins, The Lay Sci­ent­ist, cre­ated “a news web­site art­icle about a sci­entif­ic paper”.

In the stand­first I will make a fairly obvi­ous pun about the sub­ject mat­ter before pos­ing an inane ques­tion I have no inten­tion of really answer­ing: is this an import­ant sci­entif­ic find­ing? […]

This is a sub-head­ing that gives the impres­sion I am about to add use­ful con­text. […]

To pad out this sec­tion I will include a vari­ety of inane facts about the sub­ject of the research that I gathered by Googling the top­ic and read­ing the Wiki­pe­dia art­icle that appeared as the first link.

I will pre­face them with “it is believed” or “sci­ent­ists think” to avoid giv­ing the impres­sion of passing any sort of per­son­al judge­ment on even the most inane facts.

You get the idea, I’m sure, but it’s well worth look­ing at the full piece as the spoof also acts as a guide to why we should avoid clichéd, for­mu­laic writ­ing: it quickly gets bor­ing and pre­dict­able.

In a fol­low-up to his par­ody, Rob­bins looks at why this tired for­mula has come into play and what can be done about it.

via Kot­tke

Also: Are stor­ies with loaded-ques­tion head­lines pop­u­lar?

News’ Reliance on PR and Wire Services

News organ­isa­tions and journ­al­ists are becom­ing less “act­ive gather­ers of news” and more “pro­cessors of […] second-hand mater­i­als”, sug­gests a sur­pris­ing study con­duc­ted by research­ers at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity.

Nick Dav­ies, author of Flat Earth News, com­mis­sioned the research and provides a brief over­view of this study on the state of cur­rent media report­ing:

Spe­cial­ists at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity […] sur­veyed more than 2,000 UK news stor­ies from the four qual­ity dailies (Times, Tele­graph, Guard­i­an, Inde­pend­ent) and the Daily Mail. They found two strik­ing things. First, when they tried to trace the ori­gins of their “facts”, they dis­covered that only 12% of the stor­ies were wholly com­posed of mater­i­al researched by report­ers. With 8% of the stor­ies, they just could­n’t be sure. The remain­ing 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or par­tially con­struc­ted from second-hand mater­i­al, provided by news agen­cies and by the pub­lic rela­tions industry. Second, when they looked for evid­ence that these “facts” had been thor­oughly checked, they found this was hap­pen­ing in only 12% of the stor­ies. […]

And the Cardiff research­ers found one oth­er key stat­ist­ic that helps to explain why this has happened. For each of the 20 years from 1985, they dug out fig­ures for the edit­or­i­al staff­ing levels of all the Fleet Street pub­lic­a­tions and com­pared them with the amount of space they were filling. They dis­covered that the aver­age Fleet Street journ­al­ist now is filling three times as much space as he or she was in 1985. In oth­er words, as a crude aver­age, they have only one-third of the time that they used to have to do their jobs. Gen­er­ally, they don’t find their own stor­ies, or check their con­tent, because they simply don’t have the time.

The study (sub­scrip­tion required) did­n’t just look at the report­ing of news­pa­pers, how­ever: radio and tele­vi­sion news (BBC Radio 4, BBC News, ITV News and SkyNews) provided sim­il­ar res­ults, with the research­ers con­clud­ing that this reli­ance “seems set to con­tin­ue, if not increase, in the near future”.

The Qual­ity and Inde­pend­ence of Brit­ish Journ­al­ism (pdf)–another of the out­put reports from the study–is freely avail­able and offers more detail if you need it (and will most likely answer any ques­tions).

A sim­il­ar study was con­duc­ted in Aus­tralia with sim­il­ar find­ings.

Learning to Concentrate and Media Dieting

Stat­ing that “one of the more embar­rass­ing and self-indul­gent chal­lenges of our time is the task of relearn­ing how to con­cen­trate”, Alain de Bot­ton’s short essay for City Journ­al looks at our “obses­sion” with cur­rent events and how this dis­tracts us from… everything.

The obses­sion with cur­rent events is relent­less. We are made to feel that at any point, some­where on the globe, some­thing may occur to sweep away old certainties—something that, if we failed to learn about it instant­an­eously, could leave us wholly unable to com­pre­hend ourselves or our fel­lows. We are con­tinu­ously chal­lenged to dis­cov­er new works of culture—and, in the pro­cess, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds. We leave a movie theat­er vow­ing to recon­sider our lives in the light of a film’s val­ues. Yet by the fol­low­ing even­ing, our exper­i­ence is well on the way to dis­sol­u­tion. […]

The need to diet, which we know so well in rela­tion to food, and which runs so con­trary to our nat­ur­al impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in rela­tion to know­ledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bod­ies, require peri­ods of fast­ing.

via Intel­li­gent Life

Media Consumption and Current Events

As part of their series on ‘media diets’, The Atlantic Wire is ask­ing a num­ber of media luminar­ies how they man­age the deluge of inform­a­tion we all encounter online.

Some names you’ll recog­nise include Dav­id Brooks, Ezra Klein, Tyler Cowen and the fol­low­ing from Clay Shirky dis­cuss­ing his dis­taste for ‘break­ing news’:

In gen­er­al, there’s no real break­ing news that mat­ters to me. I don’t have any alerts or noti­fic­a­tions on any piece of soft­ware I use. My phone is on silent ring, noth­ing alerts me when I get a Tweet and my e‑mail does­n’t tell me when mes­sages arrive.

I also don’t read any of the big tech aggreg­at­ors. Know­ing that, for instance, Google just bought Blog­ger, isn’t that use­ful for me to hear today rather than tomor­row. Some of Michael Arring­ton’s stuff I think is an example of the worst kind of break­ing news. The kind of Apple Insider stuff where they pub­lish some­thing every day to sat­is­fy the news cycle. It’s gos­sip cov­er­age like fol­low­ing movie stars and it dis­tracts me from think­ing longer form thoughts. […]

What are my guilty pleas­ures? Giv­en the fact that medi­a’s my job—I don’t feel much guilt. There’s no equi­val­ent of eat­ing Häagen-Dazs out of the box. […] That’s the thing about this job. If you think about it, I sup­pose the guilty pleas­ure is garden­ing or cook­ing. It’s about get­ting away from media con­sump­tion and mak­ing lin­guine instead.

Of all of the art­icles in the series, Shirky’s is the ‘diet’ my own is closest to.

via @cojadate

Journalism Online and Internet Entrepreneurship

In pro­fil­ing a num­ber of ‘online journ­al­ism entre­pren­eurs’, The New York Times does a good job of provid­ing a rel­at­ively cliché-free, high-level over­view of the cur­rent state of online news pub­lish­ing.

The art­icle looks at the “new breed” of blog-based journ­al­ists, a few busi­ness mod­els, and the prob­lems asso­ci­ated with advert­ising online.

There’s noth­ing new here for those who already have a passing interest in pub­lish­ing (or blog­ging, for that mat­ter), but I did find this obser­va­tion on web-based entre­pren­eur­ship rather nice:

You can­’t call it a dot-com boom — there is not much cap­it­al, there are no parties with catered sushi and no one is expect­ing to get rich. But this gen­er­a­tion of start-ups does share at least one trait with its 1990s pre­de­cessors: a con­vic­tion that they’re the van­guard of an unfold­ing revolu­tion.

via More Intel­li­gent Life