Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Complaint and culture

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    Larson does also concede that, given a do-over, she “might have reconsidered the cover design”

    OK, I agree with you that the compare and contrast between Larson’s grown-up response and her predecessor’s career-ending one to that crime story couldn’t be more vivid. But really, Virginia, you really thought that image and that strap line wasn’t going to throw a twenty gallon drum of napalm on an already hot button subject? I’m actually paying Virginia Larson a compliment in saying it beggars belief, because she’s not some naive noob with the ink still drying on her journalism school diploma.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12046 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    My first, intemperate comment on another blog was that fining people for pedantry is a bloody good idea.

    A more reasoned argument on that subject would be that the article in question covered the discovery of a new supernova and gave its distance incorrectly, by a vast factor. I'd suggest that those watching the piece might have their interest piqued, and could go to Wikipedia, a library book, or a course in astronomy and learn the correct information. They might learn along they way a more useful lesson, which is not to believe everything you hear on the news.

    If broadcasters are required to fact check hard science pieces to a forensic level of accuracy, will they do so? Or just avoid those subjects, and concentrate on Sunny Bill Williams, or penguins washed up on the beach? If they do the latter, they won't be subject to any form of complaint, but people will be less informed.

    Also, I read a lot of history. You get egregious errors in academic history books. I've got a volume on nuclear weapons development where the author conspicuously failed to understand the basic technological challenges. What does one do about that?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4471 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    Getty

    God, I hate them.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • 3410,

    The Don McDonald thing, in short:

    [T]he report on the [10 year old] Canadian girl featured the following line of voice-over:

    "The Canadian Astronomical Society says Kathryn’s supernova was in a galaxy 240 light years from Earth".

    That should have been 240 million light years – because the supernova is a very long way from Earth and therefore very difficult to discover, even with a powerful telescope...

    BSA says:

    "[W]e consider that Mr McDonald’s complaint was dealt with adequately and appropriately by the broadcaster [TVNZ], which accepted that the figure was incorrect, but explained that it was not material to the item".

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 2618 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    BSA fail.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I’d suggest that those watching the piece might have their interest piqued, and could go to Wikipedia, a library book, or a course in astronomy and learn the correct information. They might learn along they way a more useful lesson, which is not to believe everything you hear on the news.

    I'd suggest media organisations 1) Need to get basic matters of fact right (we weren't exactly talking about an obtuse controversy among astrophysicists here), full stop and period. 2) Failing that, just put your damn ego in park and promptly retract and correct with a modicum of good grace. Like the Christchurch Police, our media outlets might just find people view epistemic modesty as a virtue not a flaw.

    And, yes, you might find this example nutty "pedantry" - but here's a thought. Russell has banged on a lot over the years about junk science, statistical innumeracy and agenda-driven concern troll social pseudo-science in the media - because it does influence political discourse and public policy and seldom for the better.

    If media outlets aren't going to take care over the small shit, why should anyone expect them to be any less careless about the biggies? Perhaps I'm showing my age, but that's why young journos used to be told to double check the spelling of names (then check again). Trivial? Perhaps - but it did matter to the folks who (reasonably) expected that small courtesy, and it does knock a small chip off trust and credibility any journalist needs to function.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12046 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    +1 to what Craig says, especially

    I’d suggest media organisations 1) Need to get basic matters of fact right 2) Failing that, just put your damn ego in park and promptly retract and correct with a modicum of good grace.

    And I think what the Washington Post is doing is great – giving their readers credit for their intelligence and knowledge, and accepting their help if they get something wrong. Even with good internal systems, mistakes are going to happen. Digital media allow a collaborative approach which can yield a better result for everybody.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3470 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    This is hardly a forensic level of accuracy. It's a question of one important word - million - going missing and in the process drastically altering a story. If it took a 10 year old girl to discover a supernova as close as 240 light years away, how is it we're still alive? Or, how is it we don't have stories along the lines of "5 year old Jamaican boy discovers the sun!"? But put at its proper distance of 240 million light years the story suddenly becomes truly awesome.

    I’ve got a volume on nuclear weapons development where the author conspicuously failed to understand the basic technological challenges. What does one do about that?

    Buy a book written by an author who understands the subject?

    Beijing • Since Jan 2007 • 2167 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    But put at its proper distance of 240 million light years the story suddenly becomes truly awesome.

    The number on its own doesn't do that; contextual knowledge is required. Lack of ability/resource for journos or editors to know what's relevant and convey that in stories seems to be a general problem these days. A more viable business model might help.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lilith __,

    Digital media allow a collaborative approach which can yield a better result for everybody.

    And they offer the space to do it. I don't think it's reasonable to expect that every correction should take up time on the 6pm news, but certainly on the broadcaster's website, and perhaps even in a weekly half-hour programme on Sundays.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 19019 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    If media outlets aren’t going to take care over the small shit, why should anyone expect them to be any less careless about the biggies?

    I don't. I learnt many years ago that when you see something in the media that you have personal knowledge of, it's most likely wrong or distorted in some respect. People should know this, and validate information against their own knowledge and experience.

    TVNZ should have a corrections and clarifications page on their website, like the Guardian.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4471 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    when you see something in the media that you have personal knowledge of, it's most likely wrong or distorted in some respect

    +1

    People should know this

    Clashes with the overall discourse of media's authority; requires investment in assuring people that they are allowed to doubt.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16838 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    How does one, having been put off from looking at the magazine thanks to the atrocious cover (which screamed "sensationalist and unrepresentative of real obstetric practice"), get hold of a copy of the Failure to Deliver story? As a consumer of midwifery services as well as a voracious reader of international debate over related issues, I'm keen to find out whether it goes beyond the standard patch-protection carping between former GP/OBs and midwives and into something a little more substantive. It's an international debate and deserves more than rehash of the LMC arguments; on the other hand, the medical regulatory market in the US is so different from ours*, the debates in that arena don't necessarily translate here.

    There are so many facets to the issue - how does providing a high-quality medical service conflict with meeting consumer demand for alt-med practices, how effective are the processes for escalating high risk pregnancies, is it funded adequately overall, do we actually have a problem compared with comparable countries, what do the regular reviews of Maternity and Perinatal Morbidity and Mortality show as the biggest problems, and so on. Least useful but most media-ready of these are the inevitable anecdotes from patients and their families. But that's as hard as second-guessing other technical specialists like lawyers and mechanics - some things might be obvious like poor customer relations, but it's often hard to tell whether a bad or good outcome is the result of plain old luck or skills outside the norm.

    *In some US states, you can practice as a home-birth midwife without any special training, licensing or supervision. Here, it's a four-year degree.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 814 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that every correction should take up time on the 6pm news, but certainly on the broadcaster’s website

    Quite. Personally, I rarely watch TV news because I can get better value on the web: more info and comment on the issues I'm most interested in. It's a richer medium.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3470 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    TVNZ should have a corrections and clarifications page on their website, like the Guardian.

    Is this a new feature? I know I've written to the Guardian more than once about factual errors and never heard back and the original copy was never changed. One complaint was about an internet scam issuing fake qualifications claiming to be from the "University of Canterbury" which the article said was fictional. Perhaps this is a small point to people in the UK, but there are a lot of us here with degrees from this fictional place. :-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3470 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Hopefully not this fictional university :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1582 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Lilith __,

    It's been there since the late 90's.

    Also, I think many people overseas regard NZ as being a fictional place, let alone the University of Canterbury.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4471 posts Report Reply

  • David Ritchie,

    but certainly on the broadcaster’s website

    An idea from our household: get one of the regular newsreaders - perhaps in civvies during 5 minutes of downtime - read from a list of corrections and upload as an "online exclusive". Frame it as a bit of a "behind the curtain" business. Rotate responsibilities between readers so they don't get sour.

    The complaint didn't need to go to the BSA; TVNZ could have handled it with a bit of humour and nobody would care.

    Wellingtron • Since Nov 2006 • 163 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    TVNZ should have a corrections and clarifications page on their website, like the Guardian.

    Credit to Rod Oram, in his SST column, for acknowledging that he had made some errors in his article the previous week, and for putting them right.
    He makes a refreshing change to other regular columnists who just spout forth unsupported cr&p and don't seem at all concerned about errors of fact. Like, for instance, Karl du Fresne, in today's DomPost who asks:

    Ever wondered by so many believers in man-made global warming angrily demand that the media stifle the views of sceptics, but never the other way round?

    Just .. GAH.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2008 • 662 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Russell Brown,

    perhaps even in a weekly half-hour programme on Sundays

    MediaWatch FTW! It's one of those great programs that means I never have to actually watch commercial TV to get an idea of what they're like. Surely such a program is a basic part of public interest television?

    Last week's was great - Jonathan Holmes had a sly dig at himself for getting something wrong the week before. It was correction full and proper, but the intro was something like "and one of those smart-arse little ABC programs got it all wrong last week". The line could have come straight from Quadrant.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 497 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Hopefully not this fictional university :)

    Ah, but that's Canterbury University, not the University of Canterbury, and those are very, very different things. The UC fencing club used to call itself the CUFC rather than the UCFC until we got a website and Canterbury University in England called to make us take it down. They take it seriously, apparently. Or at least the foilists do. (I'm betting it's the foilists. They believe in rules and stuff.)

    I have noticed that the New Zealand media are blithely unaware of this difference, however.

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

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    I posted an irate facebook comment, and was considering writing more, but then Brian beat me to it, better than I could have imagined.

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3011 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Hopefully not this fictional university :)

    Nah, I'm pretty sure you can't get Canterbury Draught in the Seychelles. :-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3470 posts Report Reply

  • Alice Ronald, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    Funny, the Snow Sports Club (CUSSC) and Boardriders' Assn (CUBA) never got anything, and they've both had a decent web presence for a while. Though Canterbury University in England probably doesn't have skiing & snowboarding clubs with competing acronyms :)

    Before he shows up ranting, don't let Gregor Ronald start on how the current crop of young journos can't read a map. Lost trampers & mountain climbers constantly being reported as on a particular mountain when they're a couple of hundred km away...

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 48 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward, in reply to B Jones,

    How does one, having been put off from looking at the magazine thanks to the atrocious cover (which screamed "sensationalist and unrepresentative of real obstetric practice"), get hold of a copy of the Failure to Deliver story?

    This. I saw that cover in the supermarket and recoiled from it - there was no way I was going to purchase it to read the story.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1722 posts Report Reply

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