Tag 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