Tag Archives: journalism

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.

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

Breeding Trust Through Better Science Journalism

With a public distrust of scientists comes the idea that “no scientific evidence will ever be compelling”. That’s what we can learn from Creationism, says Andrew Brown, and to solve this distrust we cannot rely on education to help the next generation understand, but instead we must improve science journalism.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but reasonably certain that it isn’t the public understanding of science as most scientists understand that. What they mean by this is teaching people to think more or less as scientists do about the world. That’s admirable in itself: reasonable numeracy, and some knowledge of statistics and of probability, would hugely improve almost everyone’s life. But it won’t solve the underlying problem of trust.

via The Browser

The End of the Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid style of reportage is broken, believes Jason Fry, and it is time to reinvent contextless reporting into a more reader-friendly style.

Fry points to an essential Nieman Reports essay that suggests how context-central reporting could be the future of reporting and a reason why Wikipedia is becoming the destination of choice for those wanting to be informed on current events.

Ed Yong provides a good summary, introducing it with:

News journalism relies on a tried-and-tested model of inverted storytelling. Contrary to the introduction-middle-end style of writing that pervades school essays and scientific papers, most news stories shove all the key facts into the first paragraphs, leaving the rest of the prose to present background, details and other paraphernalia in descending order of importance. The idea behind this inverted pyramid is that a story can be shortened by whatever degree without losing what are presumed to be the key facts.

But recently, several writers have argued that this model is outdated and needs to give way to a new system where context is king.

via @siibo