GIGO: When crap journalism creates a new reality
Thursday May 25th 2006, 12:04 pm

Crap news- on the sceneHere’s how journalism is supposed to work:

A. Event occurs

B. Event reported to journalist

C. Journalist gathers information from concerned parties

D. Journalist cross-checks facts to assure veracity

E. Facts wordsmithed into a story, checked for balance and bias

F. Story is published/broadcast

The hardest part is step D. Phone calls must be made, subjects interviewed, translations verified, etc. This takes time and resources.

However, in the modern 24 hour news cycle, driven since 1980 by 24/7 cable news channels and since about 1996 by myriad internet news sites, time is by nature limited. As media continues to be consolidated into the hands of a very few massive corporate news operations, fewer and fewer journalists are employed to do the work. The pressure to publish on a deadline often forces stories to be published with insufficient time spent on fact checking.

When a story is published, it is frequently cited by meta-news services and other commenters like bloggers. The public are accustomed to trusting the fact-checking resources in the past available to large newsgathering operations. However, fact-checking is the first task to be shaved. In many cases, fact-checking is deliberately made more difficult by those who have a vested interest in making your news read a certain way.

A few cases in point:

* Iranian president Ahmadinejad was recently widely quoted as saying that “…Israel should be wiped off the map.” According to University of Michigan history professor, middle-east specialist and linguist Juan Cole, the Ahmadinejad comment was really only a sloppy translation from Farsi. Wikipedia has a rather complete wrap of the translation dispute involving Cole and Christopher Hitchens. The sloppy translation was doubtless a delight to some Israeli politicians and diplomats who announced plans to sue Ahmadinejad for planning to commit genocide.

* Iran was again in the sights of those trying to build the case for a US military strike when it was reported that Iran had plans to force non-Muslims to wear colour coded garb to identify them, in the same manner as Jews were required to wear yellow stars in Nazi Germany. The story was even confirmed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Bloggers stepped in and have done the fact-checking- and have debunked the non-Muslim colour-coding tale.

* Sunday Times reporter Hala Jaber was recently caught out on fact checking when she claimed to have seen a video in which Iraqi journalist Atwar Bahjat was stripped naked and beheaded. Bahjat’s family and coworkers denied that the person depicted in the video was the slain Iraqi journalist. That didn’t stop The Australian from running an editorial using the supposed beheading as the springboard for their usual agenda of demonising Muslims, garnering passionate community responses.

Where does slop end and intent to mislead begin?

Regardless of the cause, the old hacker’s maxim of GIGO, or ‘garbage in, garbage out‘ applies. However, in the case of modern junk journalism with slack fact checking in big newsgathering operations, some which have an agenda to drive, that could be reinterpreted to ‘garbage in, gospel out.’


6 Comments so far
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It’s a serious problem you identify, Weez. I would like to think that most journalists are guilty only of slop, with either insufficient training or working conditions compromising good training, whereas most intent to mislead comes from those who make decisions about news services’ editorial direction. Could be wrong, though.

I wrote yesterday about the modern crap being pumped out of large, downsized media organisations in the name of journalism. When deadlines are so tight (and are linked to quantity instead of quality), it makes much more sense to spend 20 minutes “researching” a “story” on Google Trends rather than make a couple of phone calls to fact-check or improve upon a proper story.

Comment by Ed 05.25.06 @ 12:53 pm

Ed, without a doubt, too many people rely on the content of the internet for any sort of information, whether for recipes or cross-checking news stories. Uni students these days rarely reference anything they can’t get online. I did both my uni degrees (early & mid 1980s) on a manual typewriter and endless trips to libraries. Mind you, if I’d have had access to online resources back then as available now, I’d certainly have used them as heavily as modern students do.

Bloggers really can be the new media, but stepping up to do the standard journalists’ tasks is prerequisite. Where possible, bloggers should do independent newsgathering and fact-checking.

The link to firedoglake in the above bit is a very good example of how to do it. Make a list of questions and get various news sources to answer them. A couple of phone calls, as you note, can turn on much brighter lights than mere Googlestalking, though both certainly have a place in the blogger’s toolkit.

Comment by weez 05.25.06 @ 2:03 pm

Hallelujah, I hear ya

Comment by ab 05.26.06 @ 6:45 pm

I’m hardly surprised about this. Remember Frontline?

Comment by Rooster 05.31.06 @ 8:39 am

Rooster, I haven’t been in Australia long enough to have seen Frontline- only got here in 1996. Thanks for the link, anyway.

Comment by weez 05.31.06 @ 8:51 am

Sorry about that mate – Frontline should be available at your local friendly video store 🙂
T’was one of the more enjoyable texts in the HSC English syllabus.

Comment by Rooster 05.31.06 @ 1:51 pm

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