Memo to journos: Why you are not trusted

Two interesting posts today from two investigative journalists – both in the U.K.

The first is from Brendan O’Neill, whose opening remarks about investigative journalism, at University College Cork Journalism Society’s annual conference. include the following:

Investigating the crisis of 21st Century Journalism

[…] There is a great deal of investigative journalism around today. The problem is that a lot of it is not very good; it is very different to the investigative journalism of the past and it often ends up distorting the truth rather than enlightening public debate.

I want to run through three C-words in modern journalism that I think are having a detrimental impact on investigative reporting.

The first C-word is “conspiratorial thinking”, the tendency of journalists to write about power and power relations in a quite juvenile, teenage way […]

The second C-word is “crusading mentality”, the way more and more journalists now conceive of themselves as moral crusaders against evil – whether that evil is climate change or Catholic child abusers or Bosnian-Serbo maniacs or whatever.

And the third C-word is “conformism”. I want to argue that the sphere of what it is acceptable to think and say has shrunk dramatically in recent years, and even radical journalists now investigate things and say things that are not nearly as daring as they think.


The second problematic C-word in modern journalism is “crusader”. Lots of investigative journalists today seem to believe they are moral crusaders against wickedness, that they are forces for Good against Evil.

You can see this, for example, in environmentalist exposes of Big Oil and its wicked antics. Green journalism is the most annoying kind of journalism today, employing a very childlike, almost Biblical language to describe the nastiness and destructiveness of modern industry and the modern world. […] [emphasis added -hro]

YMMV, but I certainly cannot disagree with O’Neill’s observations.

Complementing these obvious shortcomings of the media mavens, are Richard North’s observations on the recent “reporting” of the horsemeat crisis/scandal in Europe [h/t Shub Niggurath via twitter].

The innumeracy of these particular journos is almost beyond belief. One of the examples cited by North:

Media: no wonder we have a problem

We now have an explanation not only for the horsemeat crisis, but also the economic crisis. Europe is drowning in horsemeat.
But, if the Telegraph would thus have us drowning in horsemeat, the Independent on Sunday doesn’t do so much better. It has Canada exporting 1.8 million tons of horsemeat to France in 2011, with Mexico sending another 1.2 million tons. The actual figures are, respectively, 1,800 and 1,200 tons.

Newspapers these days are becoming a joke. Not only are their journalists profoundly ignorant, they are also inumerate. If these figures were taken at face value, they would represent something like 10 million horses – 50 times the entire number of horses (200,000) slaughtered in the EU annually. [emphasis added -hro]

O’Neill had also observed:

Investigative journalists are turned from active seekers of truth into passive recipients of gossip, passive recipients of titillating information from within the citadels of power. They become messengers between squabbling sections of the elite, rather than properly independent pursuers of political and social insights or truths. This is a problem because truth is not something that can be revealed to us – it is something we find and even formulate through the very act of looking for it and uncovering it. It doesn’t exist externally to us, in Julian Assange’s computer; it is made by us through investigation and thought. [emphasis added -hro]

Andrew Revkin’s acknowledgement a few months ago of his failure to verify Gavin Schmidt’s Nov. 2009 claim that RealClimate had been “hacked” is a perfect example of (crusading?) journalist as messenger – as was Revkin’s even more ignominious unverified repetition of the claims in Peter Gleick’s creative writing exercises a year ago.

Could this combination of dedication to blind “crusading” and “passivity” be the cause of the MSM’s continued failure to highlight Donna Laframboise’s thoroughly investigated – and meticulously documented -shortcomings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?

Could this same combination be the cause of these same media mavens’ decision to ignore (rather than investigate) the evidence which strongly suggests that fellow green crusader, Saint David Suzuki has a very tarnished halo?

3 thoughts on “Memo to journos: Why you are not trusted

  1. Hillary,

    I doubt that most journalists are moral crusaders. That’s too noble (regardless the crusade). I suspect they are just puppets who are trying to keep their jobs. Unfortunately, that might mean it’s not the journalists that are the problem.

  2. Another problem (ably described by Nick Davies in his book “Flat Earth News”) is the rise of “churnalism”, where news agency stories are more or less copied and pasted without much in the way of critical thought happening during the process, and that is how information of dubious provenance can easily make its way through the media food chain, much like horsemeat in our beef products, to use a topical metaphor.

    This sort of thing doesn’t just happen in print journalism but in all kinds of media, though; one example is “50 million climate refugees by 2010” which turned out to be little more than someone’s back-of-an-envelope guesstimate but took on the mantle of sombre fact after appearing on the UNEP website.

    One that got nipped in the bud was David Attenborough’s recent assertion that parts of Africa “have become three and a half degrees Centigrade hotter in the past 20 years”, which was corrected after Leo Hickman contacted the BBC. Unchecked, it could have proliferated and have started to appear on hundreds of NGOs’ websites in future years – who knows, possibly UNEP might not have been immune!

  3. Pingback: Why free media standards are important | Muktware

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