Club Meh

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.

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15 Responses to Club Meh

  1. david tiley says:

    As the daily recipient of press releases from charming people, I am very used to the “two admiring quotes attributed to the boss who has somehow eaten a thesaurus” approach. It has only just occurred to me that press releases are not actually an attempt to con me into putting shoddy copy into our newsletter. They are really a cry for help.

    Every year, universities all round Australia churn out journalists. Very few of them actually practice their craft – most of them end up in PR. The system ends up teaching ethics and scepticism to people who only want to subvert them.

    From memory, Peter Pockley cited the figures for science journalism around five years ago. 140 people employed to spin science news; a total of four dedicated science journalists in the whole country.

    I’ve been on an industry advisory board for a master’s program in journalism, among other topics. I couldn’t get an agenda item about teaching real reporting – the time was taken up discussing units on public relations and crisis management. And they were happily setting up satellite programs in a variety of Asian countries including Singapore and Hong Kong. At the time, it seemed to me that this was simply arrogant, given that we knew very little about the cultures.

    Now that I’ve been told about the working conditions of real journalists at a local level in some parts of the region, teaching the tricks of news management to their aspiring technocrats seems nothing short of vile.

  2. Marks says:

    Living North of the Berrimah Line, I liked the box about the NT News, cyclones and crocodiles.

    Similarly in the world stage, the great tragedy of Princess Diana’s death was that journalists the world over lost the great deadline standby of a story on whatever “Di” was doing at the time.

  3. C.L. says:

    Sounds like the Lancet/press modus operandi. Tim Lambert must know how the youngster feels, having embarrassed himself by supporting those numbers – which are now thoroughly debunked.

  4. gustov_deleft says:

    Sounds like the Lancet/press modus operandi. Tim Lambert must know how the youngster feels, having embarrassed himself by supporting those numbers – which are now thoroughly debunked.

    As much as I hesitate at feeding the troll, his ‘argument’ about the lancet study of excess Iraqi deaths being ‘debunked’ is a lie – but I’m sure the troll already knew that.

  5. C.L. says:

    The study is as dead as a door-nail. Debunked. Kaput. Ka-splat.

    Lambert maintained a faith-based belief in it till the end.

    Why? Because he hates Bush.

  6. JC says:


    You may be interested in this blog set up by a hedge fund manager who’s made the Lancet survey (and unmasking some of the possible sleazy things they’ve done) his past time.

  7. Tim Lambert says:

    Just as, in a dispute between a 13 year old and NASA scientists about asteroid orbits smart money is on NASA, in a dispute between JC’s hedge fund manager and epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins about epidemiology, the samrt money is on the epidemiologists.

    And if JC has a tennis match against a professional tennis player, I’d bet on the pro.

    Though he would do better than CL, who wouldn’t actually swing at the ball and just declare himself the winner.

  8. Jacques Chester says:

    If this thread turns into another tedious AGW or Iraq bunfight, it will be with a heavy heart and rapid mouseclick that I will close it.

  9. JC says:

    There are a whole series of good pieces CL. It basically shows how it is a fraud and why people shouldn’t be sucked in.

  10. gustov_deleft says:

    The study is as dead as a door-nail. Debunked. Kaput. Ka-splat.

    Yes certainly highly skilled statisticians like Michelle Malkin (lol) and other right-wing pundits have ‘debunked’ the Lancet numbers. I think that you’re right to rely on their expertise, and ignore those pesky epidemiologists – you know, the ones that publish in peer reviewed journals.

  11. JC says:

    Stop trollong Gus.

    Les Roberts is a poltical operator running for Congress on an anti-war ticket. Lancet is likely to be a fraud.

  12. NPOV says:

    Jc, surely it seems a little unlikely a journal is going to risk the integrity and reputation of its peer-review program for the political ambitions of a single man?

  13. JC says:


    Read the blog link i left and tell me where there are the weak spots.

  14. NPOV says:

    I would think in this case the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate where on that blog there is solid evidence that the entire report was a fraud (that apparently managed to fool many of the world’s top statisticians and epidemiologists). The particular discussion you linked to wasn’t about the original report at all, as far as I could tell.

  15. Jacques Chester says:

    Le sigh.

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