Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Warren on why journalism doesn't work

Winter solstice tomorrow (12:47 p.m. EST). I mention this baldly and up front as a little protest against the contemporary journalistic habit to be generous with interpretation, but stingy with facts. One must often scan through ill-written prose in fruitless search for the fact one is seeking -- the actual seat count from an election; the precise event and location at which some luminary was speaking; the source for some widely cited statistic; or even the actual date and time of an astronomical event.

Often all we get is the number killed. But that tends to be an instance from category three, above: a "widely cited statistic." In such a case, I want to know who provided the number. Then I would like to hear other numbers, from other sources -- for in my experience, whether a catastrophe is "natural," or the product of human malice, it must have happened in a specific jurisdiction. And within most of the specific jurisdictions of this world, games are being played with numbers.


Very often, a large part of my work consists of backtracking information from news sources (NYT, Guardian, Telegraph, BBC etc) to the actual place where the information comes from. Very often, and I mean very often, the source is actually providing information that is the precise opposite of the conclusion drawn by the news source.

I remember once
, in fact, when the news agencies merely anticipated the results of a given action and started writing stories about something that hadn't happened yet in order to make it start happening.

And it is a regular thing, as Warren says, to have to wade through hundreds of words of blather before finding the actual nut at the centre. In many cases, the actual vote count, jurisdiction, date, name or specific act isn't mentioned at all and I have to sift through dozens of pieces before being able to cobble together what actually happened. Sometimes it is impossible, even by calling the principles in the case.

I was just down at the Sala Stampa earlier this afternoon and commented to my friend the accreditation guy that when I got into this business I had no idea that journalists are the second most hated profession in the world. Silly me.


Anonymous said...

And the most hated?


Felix said...

I've been personally involved in a few events that were reported in the media. Not one was reported with 100% accuracy.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Louise, there are several contenders for top spot. Bishops, politicians, lawyers...

Anonymous said...

It's never prostitutes though, is it!

HJW said...


yes, I'd thought of that. It's odd isn't it? All the professions on the Evil Professions list are evil not because of the nature of the thing, but because they tend to produce liars. A prostitute is at least up front about what she does.

John said...

We're number 1!

-John, Esq.-

Anonymous said...

Thankyou, you hit the nail on the head.