Monday, March 21, 2011

POOR NEWS

"All they say is, 'It's not a problem. Don't worry' and this 'terrifies' her even more"

In today's 24 hour cable news climate where more and more people get their news online and many fewer from television, news outfits feel the need for speed. Pressured to get a story out first and attract customers, they run things as quickly as possible.

The problem with this is that it means they are a lot less likely to fact check and closely edit this news before it goes out. So every time a major event takes place, there are hosts of errors in the rush to be first.

A wiki site called JPQuake has been compiling these errors, with a ranking system on their Wall of Shame:
1 - 2: Probably unintentional, and based on bad info that seemed legit
3 - 4: Not malicious, just misunderstanding of the situation
5 - 6: Reporting without checking easily-confirmed facts; lazy as opposed to malicious OR just dumb fluff piece using human tragedy as a background.
7 - 8: No fact checking; printing rumours as fact; sensational story more important than actual truth
9 : Fear mongering.
10 : Hysterical fear-mongering along with racial/cultural/political bias
11 : Satan
Not many are really trying to cause trouble, most are in the 5-8 range, which is typical of modern journalism in general. Here are a few samples:
The Sun: Using paranoic Tokyo shut-in as sole source; Photo of "crowded" Tokyo airport that could have been taken in Golden Week; implying that face masks are related to radiation and not pollen allergies; obvious fear mongering and misinformation.

From another poster: "Depicts a woman filled with 'terror' trapped in the 'city in fear of nuclear catastrophe' which is Tokyo. (9)


Zero Hora: Headline says "Japan confirms possibility of nuclear explosion in nuclear reactor affected by the earthquake". As far as I know there has never been any official report about the risk of a "nuclear explosion". There were reports about the risk of another hydrogen explosion which is very different from a nuclear explosion. Hydrogen builds-up rising internal pressure. It's not a nuclear reaction. (4)

Der Spiegel: "Radioactive cloud drifting towards Tokyo": Wild assortment of "facts" suggesting radioactive contamination of Tokyo is imminent, with one single sentence towards the end pointing out that all this is in fact not so. (8)

Donegal Daily: Complete confusion between the cities of Tokyo and Sendai. The inference that the army were preventing people from entering Tokyo was completely false. (5)

Fox News: failed to do basic fact checking and showed a map with two nuclear reactors located in Tokyo which don't exist (5)

Kyodo News: "Traces of radioactive iodine found in tap water in Tokyo, other areas" (the level was 1/2 government maximum acceptable levels) (5)
There are dozens of examples, ranging from the "they got geography totally wrong" to "they're trying to stir up fear" to the more subjective such as "I saw a reporter and she was rude."

Overall, though, the quality of reporting has been pretty shoddy, which is getting more and more typical, especially television news channels. The lack of quality was across the board, even more respectable sources like Scientific American and Wall Street Journal had their bad moments.

I mention this for two reasons. One, to warn people again that just because something has been printed in the news is no reason to trust or rely on it; and two because the legacy media keeps complaining that blogs lack the many layers of fact checking and scrupulous editorial process which the press enjoys. Many times I've noticed that blogs are significantly more cautious and reluctant to report until they have better information than the legacy media.

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