OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Wrong. Wronger. Wrongerest.

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  • David Slack,

    I wonder if "Recorded Offences in Schools and Other Educational Institutions" includes arson attacks and vandalism?

    Devonport • Since Nov 2006 • 599 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Thanks Keith. That segment of the show, including some of the other media use of the same faulty claims, is also on YouTube:

    Now with HQ button!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    Is there any right of recourse when we are mis-quoted?

    It's so depressing when public sector releases are:

    a) Digested and excreted by a political machine then printed verbatim

    b) Requested, explained then converted to the old "issue, hero, villain" model to an extent where the truth is lost

    c) Simply made up

    As a public servant, if I lie to the public there are various criminal statutes that can be used. Hell, I can go to jail.

    Surely it's not too much to expect that when I go to the trouble of carefully understanding the question and producing a reply it should at least be intelligently challenged or compared to opposing sources?

    Nice work Keith.

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Easterbrook,

    I wonder what proportion of the "Recorded Offences" are along the lines of "Hello, Police? Yeah, there's some people smoking pot on the lower common room balcony at Auckland Uni. What's that? Oh...okay...not an appropriate use of resources? Right...okay...thanks then. Bye."

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 244 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    Is there any right of recourse when we are mis-quoted?

    Heaps. Usually media organisations will ring the Ministry to check figures and facts. If they don't a retraction or correction can be written. Beyond that, it could become a legal ...um...thing (Graeme, help!).

    I run on this principle: make it very VERY simple to read. The problem, I feel, tends to be caveats and definitions. Nearly all data comes with them and they aren't the easiest things to make palatable.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Nearly all data comes with them and they aren't the easiest things to make palatable.

    Yes, and I think asking of our journalists to have advanced reading skills and the ability to wrap their minds around caveats and definitions is a bit too much. We should make our report something that a six year old can read.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7358 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Heaps. Usually media organisations will ring the Ministry to check figures and facts. If they don't a retraction or correction can be written. Beyond that, it could become a legal ...um...thing (Graeme, help!).

    I'm no tin foil hatter, but is there a covert plot to boost shares in metal detector manufacturers and bodyguard companies?

    If it's all a waste of time complaining to the Press Council, why not take the matter to the Commerce Commission instead?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4261 posts Report Reply

  • Ian MacKay,

    The initial report/publication/TV program is what sticks in the mind:
    More violence in schools
    ACC in serious trouble from incompetent operations
    Hosptial dangerous foul-ups worse than ever
    Labour Goverment tired and without fresh ideas

    Any "correction" is already lost in the noise. So the answer lies with Media 7 or Media watch, thank goodness!

    Bleheim • Since Nov 2006 • 498 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I think it's important to note that this isn't just a matter of hammering on the original reporter. When the police comms person got back to the Herald, he was dealing with senior editorial staff. The more egregious errors were introduced after that.

    I also thought the paper's "correction" was inadequate. It was buried at the bottom of the online version of the original story, where very few people were likely to see it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Legal remedies may be disappointing (absent defamation etc). Generally, free speech implies the same price in egregious errors of fact as in pernicious opinions.

    Media do however claim to have standards so there's the Press Council and BSA respectively, even if their main penalty is embarassment. The power of Keith's number crunching has a mesmerising power over these institutions.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1095 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    Great post Keith. Thanks.

    It also illuminates the question of why public sector organisations aren't more robust in demanding corrections to inaccurate reporting. Instead of complaining about 'stupid journalists wasting public money with silly OIA requests' and 'undermining the levels of public trust in government/public services', why don't agencies get (even) more proactive in responding? Don't just phone up the editorial desk - respond quickly and officially to the inaccuracies in the comments under the story, issue your own press release which will be picked up by Scoop.

    Ian's right to say that corrections might get lost in the noise, but the earlier and more forthrightly the correction is made/demanded, the greater the chance of it being heard.

    Maybe government should require reporters to have passed Stats 101 and Public Policy Making 101 (at least) before being accredited to the parliamentary press corp? May not cover all reporting of public service issues, and newspapers shouldn't be Pravda, but it might help?

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Joshua Drummond,

    Would there be scope for Stats NZ or other party to issue a Press Council complaint? Sure would seem like it to me. That's a pretty protracted mangling.
    If this were a just world, the proscribed punishment would be to print Keith's post verbatim on the front page.
    And Keith: are there any crash-courses in stats I can take to avoid being this problem in the future? I don't want to be the journalist who makes a fuck-up like this. And my maths is terrible. I did touch on stats in journalism school, but we touched on them in much the same way as the reporters/senior Herald staff did in this case.

    Since Nov 2006 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • Newsprint,

    The way these things take hold in the media is alarming. I was in the unfortunate position of having NatRad on from just after 5am (!) this morning -- taken on face value all I heard up till 8.30 I was mad to drop my daughter at school . . .

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 42 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    why not take the matter to the Commerce Commission instead?

    Love it.

    The New Zealand Herald isn't fit for use?

    I guess they could argue that it is primarily sold as lavatory paper.

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    It should also be noted that there were problems with -- as Paul Henry did on Close Up ) generalising a "crisis" from a single incident at Avondale College. On the recent numbers, Avondale is actually a glowing success story on school violence. Its suspensions for violence against other pupils fell from seven in 2007 to one last year.

    The principal, Brett Lewis, is also extremely unhappy with the way the Herald reported various other elements of the story, including using a photo of the wrong Korean student on its front page, and claiming, baselessly, that the students it interviewed had been threatened with expulsion if they spoke to the media.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    why don't agencies get (even) more proactive in responding?

    Because...

    It sounds like the people who understand the gravity of the mistakes aren't allowed to speak to the media.

    And once you've dealt with this:

    I think asking of our journalists to have advanced reading skills and the ability to wrap their minds around caveats and definitions is a bit too much. We should make our report something that a six year old can read.

    ... you might kinda give up on trying to go back again. Because you know it'll get mangled again:

    When the police comms person got back to the Herald, he was dealing with senior editorial staff. The more egregious errors were introduced after that.

    So, read story, roll eyes then get back to trying to make the world a better place... :)

    But I agree with you - I think public servants have become far too gun shy in recent times.

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    Would there be scope for Stats NZ or other party to issue a Press Council complaint?

    The head statistician in the UK complained about how their stats were politically distorted... and not a lot happens... but at least it makes it into the paper!

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • slarty,

    Maybe government should require reporters to have passed Stats 101 and Public Policy Making 101 (at least) before being accredited to the parliamentary press corp?

    This might help them!

    Since Nov 2006 • 290 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    are there any crash-courses in stats I can take to avoid being this problem in the future? I don't want to be the journalist who makes a fuck-up like this. And my maths is terrible.

    The easiest way to do this is to make sure you read the information carefully. You don't need to "know statistics" to report them correctly.

    For example, the stats in question in Keith's post had the correct title and information but this was changed for the paper.

    It doesn't matter that "1,658 Recorded Offences in Schools and Other Educational Institutions in the last financial year" doesn't sound as sexy as "40 police callouts to NZ schools each week" (or it's variants). One is correct and one is not.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I run on this principle: make it very VERY simple to read. The problem, I feel, tends to be caveats and definitions. Nearly all data comes with them and they aren't the easiest things to make palatable.

    Police statistics are weird, and often not particularly useful.

    They for example have a common assault charge, and a 'man assaults woman' charge. Often the latter is used in the media as some indication of domestic assault.

    However a bunch of domestic assaults end up in the common assault charge, and a bunch of non-domestics end up in the man assaults woman charge. There isn't much consistency as to where two similar events fall.

    Despite this they're often reported in the media as gospel, and then once they're misreported, it's a mess squared.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6165 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    They for example have a common assault charge, and a 'man assaults woman' charge.

    This particular fact really irks me. Do we actually need to have "it's wrong to hit girls" enshrined in our law? Can't we just agree that hitting *anyone* is wrong?

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2093 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Joshua: run immediately to the nearest library and see if you can borrow this book.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2948 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    Can't we just agree that hitting *anyone* is wrong?

    See the removal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • James Liddell,

    Maybe government should require reporters to have passed Stats 101 and Public Policy Making 101 (at least) before being accredited to the parliamentary press corp? May not cover all reporting of public service issues, and newspapers shouldn't be Pravda, but it might help?

    Accreditation is through the Chair of the gallery and the Speaker, not the Government.

    And a lot of the stories you read that have a political dimension are not written (or otherwise reported) by reporters with accreditation. They're reporters whose only interactions with Ministerial offices or Departmental comms units are via phone and email. They're not the reporters you see in 3.2 or Copperfields and have a beer with in the evening. They are, however, the ones who are most likely to take a presser and reprint it almost verbatim (except for inserting their name in the byline). Dealing with an inquiry from these sorts of reporters can be like playing Russian roulette IMHO - you never know what your careful explication is going to be mangled into.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2007 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I don't believe this was accidental.

    The paper wanted to run a story on how our schools are hotbeds of crime, part of their general agenda of how NZ is going to hell in a handbasket.

    I think it would be obvious to anybody that "recorded offences in schools and universities" would include cars broken into in uni car parks, laptops pinched from offices, breakins, etc. The reporter wasn't on that track and conflated it into imaginary violent crime against schoolteachers.

    Just don't assume anything you read in the paper is true unless you have other evidence.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4448 posts Report Reply

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