Mistakes in the Big (and small) Media: Quality in Reporting

It is always fun when a hoaxed piece of research gets past all the filters and makes the newspapers, but what does it teach us? This is a video report from the Hungry Beast team in Australia, “proving” which part of Australia is the most gullible. The answer is, apparently, “the media”.

Link, in case the video doesn’t embed properly.

Here’s a different example from last week: Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a painting and medal on his Expenses as an MP.

All the papers quoted a value of 3500 ukp, except for the Independent which quoted a *premium* of 3500 ukp.

Independent:

“Other senior Tories also faced embarrassment over the latest expenses revelations. Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, submitted a 3,500 claim for the cost of insuring a medal and a painting.”

FT

Among the more whimsical claims was a 58.67 whistling kettle bought by Tory MP Douglas Carswell, 400 of repairs to Crispin Blunt’s “waterwheel structure” and Andrew Lansley’s insurance of a medal and a painting.

Cambridge News

Andrew Lansley’s home insurance policy reveals he specifically paid for protection on a medal valued at 2,022 and a painting, Hotel Tropical Island by D D D Ferris, worth 1,506.

Times

Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary, claimed the 398.92 cost of a home insurance policy, which listed a medal valued at 2,022 and a painting by DDD Ferris, entitled Hotel Tropical Island, valued at 1,506.

So what conclusions can we draw?

These are my reflections as a blogger:

  1. We have shifted to reading multiple sources on the same story presented together by Google News and other “headline summarizing” websites, such that variations are more visible.
  2. Articles reported in the media are just another set of sources. Sometimes they will not be consistent amongst themselves.
  3. If I am commenting, my reputation depends on the facts I’m commenting on being the accurate ones. If the big media source I quote is mistaken, then it takes part of my reputation with it too. So I have to do careful checking.
  4. It is the easiest thing in the world to be provoked by an “outlier” report, such as the Independent above. That way lies madness, and a broken reputation.
  5. Perhaps commentators’ need to fact-check is one factor driving more detailed scrutiny.
  6. Tight deadlines and thinner journalistic resources perhaps exasperate any difficulties.

I think that both bloggers and MSM writers need to re-emphasise traditional craft disciplines – dual sourcing, fact checking, sweating the detail. In other words, all the boring stuff.

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1 thought on “Mistakes in the Big (and small) Media: Quality in Reporting

  1. andy richardson

    as a journalist who worked on the uk mp’s expenses story – checking every claim of the six mps on our patch – i can vouch that point 6 is absolutely correct.

    Reply

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