Pity the poor working journo!
Journalists face tough deadlines. Sitting in front of a screen, they need to produce thousands of words to print or read out every day, only a fraction of which might actually make it to print or get on the air. Then people have the terrible rudeness to push numbers in front of people who are, after all, professional wordsmiths.
Is it any wonder that they engage in a little corner-cutting here and there?
For example, there’s the old favourite, Press Release Arrangement. In this game, the quotes in a press release are pruned and arranged into a pleasing order; much in the same way flowers are arranged in a vase by a wedding planner. Though not always to the same degree of acclaim.
Then there’s the Two Sides And That’s A Story gambit. Get quote from person A, repeat it to person B. Then you’ve got two quotes. That’s as good as objective reporting, isn’t it?
But every once in a while comes a story so delightful, so catchy and jaunty, that it just about writes itself11. I Darwin: For editorial staff at my former employer The Northern Territory News, these are stories about crocodiles or cyclones. The latter are especially wonderful, because they can be spun out for days with dramatic satellite photos, a two-page analysis of the Met Bureau’s latest report, and a few reprinted recollections of people who survived Cyclone Tracy. [↩] — especially when it’s been supplied by a wire service.
Such is the story about the German schoolboy who corrected NASA’s figures on the asteroid Apophis. The story started with a wire journalist who wasn’t quite able to check that NASA had, in fact, got it wrong.
“Impossible!” I hear you cry. “Journalists are magicians of maths! Numerical Nestors! Differentiating Desperados!”
Terrible, I know; but the story went around the world several times before NASA pointed out that, in actual fact, they had been right all along. Sorry kid.
Hat Tip: Tim Labert.