Quality and Journalists: A Study in Oxymorony.

A title like the above isn’t going to surprise many people. Well, maybe the made-up word will, but the subject matter is not new. Journalists and quality are not two concepts that readily go together. It can be the lack of ethical qualities in journalism evidenced in the webosphere/blogosphere/whatever they’re calling the internet these days, such as the PodFather Adam Curry’s battle against paparazzi who appropriated photos from his account on the photo-sharing site Flickr and published them in their magazine, along with details of the route (that’s “root”, not “rout”) of how his daughter walks to school.
Or it can be a television station breathlessly reporting on some sensational event simply because a they happen to have video footage of it.

A helicopter in Umma-Gumma land has crashed, slightly injuring a local chicken. And here it is crashing! Again! And again! In slow motion! In close-up! In black and white! In green and red! Upside down!

However, we all know about those sorts of scummy, crappy, sensationalist journos. What disturbs me though, is that on those occasions you have personal knowledge of an event that happens to be reported on, that there are errors in the reporting – every single time.
Sure, the errors may be minor, but it means that every item you read in the paper, see on TV3 News, or on TVNZ’s ridiculously glossy-lipped, ping-pong presenter, pseudo-casual-banter filled “news” program certainly has mistakes in it.

Case in point: knowing Iddet’s interest in the issues around identity and identity crime I read with interest the article in the Dominion Post recently, titled “Identity criminals targeting NZ – police”. Not a bad read, but from the little I know of Mr Hallett (the head of the police identity intelligence unit) I think this quote:

Mr Hallett blames the widespread use of desktop publishing software and the Internet, which is used to find information and official logos.

is highly unlikely to be true. He doesn’t “blame” the internet and desktop publishing at all, and in fact knows that they are simply tools that are used in the carrying out these crimes. Simply by phrasing it wrongly, the journo has made it sound like the police identity intelligence unit are a bunch of technologically challenged coppers who record their voicemail greeting while the mute button is on; make their email go faster by banging on the side of the computer monitor; and want to ban this interweb thing because them criminal types use it.

I’m pretty sure not absolutely everyone in the identity intelligence unit is like that…

In the same article:

There is already one outstanding warrant in New Zealand for a man suspected of using identity fraud to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars to send overseas, where it will likely be used for terrorism.

As the people at the conference that Hallett was speaking would have known, the police have no idea where that money was going, and said as much. Terrorism is a possibility, but so is the money going to set up a small chocolate shop in a quaint French village.
Then there’s TV news. Can someone tell reporters Simon Bradwell and Tom Fraser from TVNZ news that although lots of lazy people and Americans say “killom-itters” when they mean kilometres, that as a reporter you’re meant to pronounce things properly and say “killo-meeters”. I mean, you guys over-pronounce every single Maori word so much that the words sound like they have half a dozen syllables in them. “Ooo-ah-maaa-rahoo” for Oamaru (boy, that’s a nasty website). Speak to the locals: it’s pronounced “Ommeroo” or even “Omroo” by everyone who lives there. Who cares what it might have been pronounced like by Maoris, had they been there and named it 400 years ago. Which they didn’t.
Or then there’s TV reporteress who recently called the New Zealand national anthem “God of Nations”. That’s the first half-line of the thing! I’m neither patriotic nor religious, but the anthem is called “God Defend New Zealand”, dear.
I, and my words, are mere blogging blips in the torrent of frivolous information flowing around the internet, so I’m not expected to get things right. Journalists are expected to. Or at least try.

So just remember, as you watch the news tonight, that every item will have somebody’s name wrong, the date wrong, the colour of the car wrong, misquoted somebody, mispronounced something, attributed something to the wrong person, and missed out vital facts in order to make the article more sound-bitey. Enjoy!

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