Tag Archives: journalism

Rule #1: Do no harm.

Rule #2: Fear-mongering causes harm.

I believe in the enterprise of journalism, even when it lets me down in practice. The fourth estate is critically important for holding systems of power accountable. But what happens when journalists do harm?

On Sunday, a salacious article flew across numerous news channels. In print, it was given titles like “Teenagers can no longer tell the real world from the internet, study claims” (Daily Mail) and “Real world v online world: teens do not distinguish” (The Telegraph). This claim can’t even pass the basic sniff test, but it was picked up by news programs and reproduced on blogs.

The articles make reference to a “Digital Lives” study produced by Vodafone and Google, but there’s nothing in the articles themselves that even support the claims made by the headlines. No quotes from the authors, no explanation, no percentages (even though it’s supposedly a survey study). It’s not even remotely clear how the editors came up with that title because it’s 100% disconnected from the article itself.

So I decided to try to find the study. It’s not online. There’s a teaser page by the firm who appears to have run the study. Interestingly, they argue that the methodology was qualitative, not a survey. And it sounds like the study is about resilience and cyberbullying. Perhaps one of the conclusions is that teens don’t differentiate between bullying at school and cyberbullying? That would make sense.

Yesterday, I got a couple of pings about this study. Each time, I asked the journalist if they could find the study because I’d be happy to analyze it. Nada. No one had seen any evidence of the claim except for the salacious headline flying about. This morning, I went to do some TV for my book. Even though I had told the production team that this headline made no sense and there was no evidence to even support it, they continued to run with the story because the producer had decided that it was an important study. And yet, the best they could tell me is that they had reached out to the original journalist who said that he had interviewed the people who ran the study.

Why why why do journalists feel the need to spread these kinds of messages even once they know that there’s no evidence to support those claims? Is it the pressure of 24/7 news? Is it a Milgram-esque hierarchy where producers/editors push for messages and journalists/staffers conform even though they know better because they simply can’t afford to question their superiors given the state of journalism?

I’d get it if journalists really stood by their interpretations even though I disagreed with them. I can even stomach salacious headlines that are derived by the story. And as much as I hate fear-mongering in general, I can understand how it emerges from certain stories. But since when did the practice of journalism allow for uncritically making shit up? ::shaking head:: Where’s the fine line between poor journalism and fabrication?

As excited as I am to finally have my book out, it’s been painful to have to respond to some of the news coverage. I mean, it’s one thing to misunderstand cyberbullying but what reasonable person can possibly say with a straight face that today’s youth can no longer distinguish between the internet and everyday life!?!? Gaaaah.

(Image by Reuben Stanton)

“you can’t blog this”

So, i’ve gotten used to friends telling me that i can’t blog something. And teachers. Professors always stare me down and say that i can’t blog something that they said. Of course, every time someone says i can’t blog something my ears perk and up. The weird thing is that the vast majority of times that they make that precursor, i wouldn’t have blogged it anyhow. It’s something personal, something vulnerable. And i’m just not that mean.

Today, i got that statement from a reporter. She didn’t want me to blog our conversation until after the article comes out. Baroo? I found this request startling. I probably wouldn’t have blogged the conversation because the vast majority of what i said i’ve said here plenty before. But now there’s a temptation. What does it mean that mainstream media wants to control my ability to speak for myself rather than through them? The threat there is that they won’t quote me. That is less of a concern to me than my horror that they would think this is wise. I want the right to control my voice, especially given media’s tendency to misquote. Why should i wait to react to their article? Why shouldn’t i make it clear what i believe i said right after i said it? It’s not like the journalist is only talking to me. My hope is that the journalist is doing synthesis. My role is to provide a particular voice so why can’t i make it clear what my voice is ahead of time?

Of course, what stops me from fleshing things out here and naming names is that i actually like the reporter concerned and have spoken to her before and enjoyed the conversations and what she writes. I don’t want to embarrass her. But i am horrified that this is considered acceptable in mainstream media. Perhaps i should make it explicit and clear that i won’t talk to reporters who want to control my blogging?