I listen to Dan Carlin's Common Sense, and while I don't always agree with him, I do enjoy the ideas he puts on the table. The second half of episode 127 is all about the rise of "news based on your views" and whether or not reporters should strive to be "fair and balanced." It takes a little bit to get to the meat of it, but it's a fun listen. (The first half of the show is about how Obama can't possibly live up to the expectations, which is depressing.)
June 2008 Archives
As covered in a number of sources in the blogosphere already, CBSNews.com (among many other outlets) recently ran a ridiculous story claiming that global warming causes intensified earthquakes. I won't get into the details of that story here; suffice it to say that the story is completely unsupported by the science and the author is a total crackpot. The details of CBS's printing of the story are what interest me.
It appears that CBS put the story up on their website, like other sites, but then took the story down. While it was up, it was attributed to the AP, but it's not an AP story. That was likely just an error on some CBS web-monkey's part. That CBS took the story down actually speaks well of them, to an extent. It still resides MSNBC.com and Yahoo sites, among other places. It would have been better if they'd never printed it in the first place, but they at least corrected their mistake, or erased it anyway.
Of course, the conservative blogosphere jumped all over this, but they totally missed the actual problem with this incident. Rather than look at the underlying issue of prepackaged "news" being distributed by companies like MarketWire and printed by corporate media outlets like CBSNews.com and MSNBC.com, they focused their ire on the "dirt worshippers" in the "liberal media" trying to enforce the "cult of global warming." To the blogs I came across in looking into this story, the real concern seemed to be that people were reporting stories related to global warming. That the story was really just a press release paid for by Tom Chalko or one of his corporate interests and reported as news was of secondary concern, only worth mentioning to sling mud at the so-called liberal media.
Whether media outlets have a perceived liberal or conservative bias, people should be much, much more concerned about the quality of the reporting or the lack thereof. CBS should actually receive a small amount of praise for taking the stupid thing down when they realized their mistake in printing it. They should be lambasted, though, like any other outlet that printed this story, for not bothering to even double-check the crap their pulling from the wires.
Watching CBS Sunday Morning, I was surprised by the presence of both truth and absurdity in an opinion piece by CBS Corporate Communications Executive VP Gil Schwartz. Schwartz was miffed by Andrew Cohen's opinion piece on the PR industry's response to Scott McClellan's book, taking umbrage specifically at Cohen's assertion that public relations is an inherently dishonest industry. While I agree with Cohen on that point, I would expect most public relations spinmasters to disagree and defend their side.
Schwartz's response -- despite an overabundance of 50 cent words where 10 cent words would do -- was carefully prepared and delivered with the sort of apparent conviction only a weathered PR professional can deliver. The absurdity came quickly, when he stated emphatically that PR companies only lie unkowingly, when their clients lie to them. Working in the media monitoring industry, I see on a daily basis how public relations companies -- in direct collusion with media outlets -- spin half-truths and lies of omission into marketing-cum-soundbite-news. The whole point of PR is to make the public feel good about your product or organization, and the worse the breaking news, the faster those PR wheels spin to turn the opinion back around, truth be damned.
What surpised me, though, was Schwartz's open acknowledgement of that collusion between so-called journalists and the PR industry. He boldly stated that PR and journalism are two sides of the same coin(!), and that when PR looks bad, journalism is going to look worse. I was agog that someone from either side of that equation would come out on a major media outlet make a direct reference to the very thing that's ruined journalism. Again, in the industry I work in, it's no secret that PR companies or the PR departments of companies contract companies such as DS Simon or Multivu to produce video news releases (aka, the fake news). They also produce press releases that are then distributed to media outlets by such companies as PRNewswire and Business Wire. Many of those outlets just print the press release as it is, but worse still are the AP and local-press "journalists" that rewrite the press releases and present them as legitimate stories, disguising the advertising as news. Scwartz was being completely honest in his comments on the symbiotic relationship between the PR industry and the news industry.
Of course, there's absurdity there, too. Schwartz sees nothing wrong with this relationship, and actually said that good PR leads to good journalism(!!). I was floored by that profoundly ridiculous assertion. If anything, the quality of the PR is inversely proportional to the quality of the journalism on any given story. Being a slick PR guy himself, I couldn't tell if Schwartz honestly believed that nonsense, or if that was just the product he was trying to sell. Maybe he's spent so much time in the PR industry that the truth of a statement has become a non-issue, as the only important consideration is the spin a statement provides. Regardless of how he honestly feels on the subject, he certainly understands that the fake reporters out there depend on the PR industry as much as the PR industry depends on them, and he basically threatened those fake journalists, telling them to play nice, or they'd ruin the game for everyone involved.
All told, it was an exciting few minutes of television. Schwartz pulled back the curtain, however briefly and possibly unintentionally, and exposed the unhealthy relationship between PR and journalism. He then basically said, "We got a good scam going! Don't screw this up!" Amazing.
Watching some of the local 11:00 news last night, I was positively riveted by their top story. Apparently, something is going on somewhere! Luckily WHAS was the first to tell us about it, and it's a good thing I caught the 11:00 broadcast, since I had missed the story at 5:30, 6:00, and 10:00.
To be fair, the story does have the potential to be interesting. A federal investigation is going on at the University of Louisville. Unfortunately, any of the details that would actually make the story interesting, such as who is being investigated and why, are still under wraps. It's not WHAS's fault, of course, that no one will tell them anything, but when all the info they have would fit on a single notecard, does it really warrant being the top story on multiple broadcasts throughout the evening? I mean, you can't really stretch a teaser out into a substantial story, no matter how hard you try or what sort of enlightening comments you get from U of L students.
Yeah, we get it: you guys were first. Don't worry, Gary. When there's an actual story to report, we'll give you the credit for telling us about it seconds before one of the other local stations. Until then, maybe you can tell us about something that actually has some substance. That is, if we can make it out through your bludgeoning of sentences, your stammers like so many lead pipes against the words stumbling drunkenly from your lips.
In what would likely be a misreported story - if it were ever reported, of course - an analysis conducted by Gary Schwitzer from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication found that most reporting on medical treatments/interventions fails to adequately address issues such as the quality of the evidence, the cost of the treatment, potential benefits or harm, and more. Quelle suprise!
Published May 27 at PLoS Medicine, Schwitzer's analysis looked at 500 health news stories that were reported over a two-year span, finding that between 62% and 77% of the stories had "major failings in the quality of the reporting." The analysis was conducted on stories graded by Schwitzer's online project, HealthNewsReview.org, which evaluates health stories reported by various media outlets (including the top 50 newspapers, the Associated Press's wire reports, TIME, Newsweek, and three of the four major networks' morning and evening news) and gives the journalists their "grades."
The methodology in the analysis seems pretty solid. The only slight conflict of interest might be that Schwitzer's own website was the source of the data, but this analysis is of grades already given and doesn't stand to really benefit that project in any substantial way. Reading over the study, it really confirms a lot of what I already figured to be true, mainly that key information is routinely omitted from medical reporting. Time constraints and sensationalism are two possible - and in my opinion likely - causes for the poor reporting, but PLoS Medicine editors also discuss the idea that reporters' inadequate training in understanding health research and the "complicit collaboration" between scientists, reporters, and medical journals in hyping a new study could also both be to blame.
Some of the blame certainly also falls on scienctists and medical professionals for not sharing the information with the media in an appropriate manner. A study by Vikki Entwhistle found that "the way information flows from medical journals to newspapers influences the balance of medical topics reported, the quality of the research reported (and its appropriateness for public attention), and the quality of news reporting." Still, is it not a journalist's job to dig and find all of the facts before just throwing something up on screen or out onto the printed page? Regardless of the reason, it's simply unacceptable for our trusted media outlets to not give the public all of the important information that puts a story's headline in the proper context.
Not all medical reporting is shoddy. Schwitzer's site does prominently display five-star stories, stories that get the content correct and have all of the necessary information, right on its front page, along with several of the latest stories making the rounds. This is a great resource, and any time a medical news story piques my interest, I'll be sure to swing by and see what I've missed out on in the reporting.
(For what it's worth, only three articles from the Courier Journal appear on the site, all from 2006. One received a five star rating, the other two receiving two and three stars.)
Oh, Steackcharmer, you long-neglected provider of sweet ventilation, how we've let you languish. What brings me back to you is not a criticism of the media, per se, though it does tie closely to a certain chromosomally-challenged maven of local buffoonery. Once again, they've opened a window onto a scene of such cultural ignorance that I'm nearly at a loss for words.
"Oh my god, Blaine. They're playing Billy Idol. Punk rock is so awesome!"
That's not to say I'm particularly surprised at the feeble attempt at nostalgia-chic that is the "Punk Revival" at a local rock-themed bar or the lame dildos that took part. To the contrary, this is exactly the kind of low-rent minstrelsy that the douchelords of society have always enjoyed. Americans have a rich history of appropriating the art or music of a marginalized subculture and repackaging it as ironic entertainment. I'm less offended by that than I am by just how little effort these clowns even put into the whole thing. What, they couldn't be bothered to dab on a little blackface? I'm not asking for authentic patches or those weird butt-flaps or anything that might get them mistakenly beaten up by some of the other 4th Street patrons. Some safety pins would have been fine. At least "Sara Wilson wore pink fishnet stockings." (Ah, so it is, in fact, a punk revival: fishnets!) Of course, they would have to stay within the dress code of the club, which I've learned is "Rock chic, trendy, or casual. No athletic wear." Will they relax that last rule when the inevitable hip-hop revival comes around? I mean, since we're reviving things that aren't dead, surely hip-hop is just around the corner.
"Oh man! Do you remember when this song came out? Dexter Holland is the coolest punk star! Keep 'em separated! Cool!"
Making fun of these goons is easy and entertaining, but there is a (somewhat) serious critique buried here somewhere. I'm not going to go on about what is punk or what isn't, because that's beside the point. It just chaps my ass that the people enjoying themselves at this event are so ignorant of the culture they're using for the night's entertainment that they can't even play to stereotype or be bothered to learn what those stereotypes might be. It's as if our culture of appropriation has gotten too lazy to even appropriate anymore. Considering these are likely the same folks turning to fine publications like Velocity to get their weekly dose of culture, I guess it should be expected.