Media now only report on public ignorance

By Grant Jacobs 21/06/2010

Courtesy of cartoonist, xkcd:


I love how this subtlety drops in a call for anecdotal opinion (rather than evidence).

Read Jonathon Holmes’s recent article on that journalism should offer more than ’he said, she said’ in the context of the cartoon (or vice versa).

Holme’s article a good take on the ‘media balance’ issue and it is nice to see it coming from an long-time journalist. (Holmes is presenter of ABC TV’s Media Watch, and has been a journalist for 35 years.)

The final words of his penultimate sentence (my emphasis added)

The addiction to ‘he said, she said’ journalism is not, in my view, because reporters are lazy, but because they’ve been schooled to believe (by news consumers, as well as by editors and, dare I say it, Chairmen of the Board) that the appearance of ‘balance’ is more important than the quest for truth.

resonate strongly with something I wrote recently of some NZ current affairs programmes:

It strikes me that this effectively exploits the mainstream media’s ’standard’ practice of presenting ’alternative views.’ (I worry sometimes that the/a main reason is to ’justify’ that they have ’correctly investigated’ an issue. In New Zealand I have seen apologetic remarks to this effect on current affairs programmes.)

Maybe he’s seeing the same thing over the ditch* as I am here, in my less informed way. My instinctive impression from the apologetic remarks offered by the presenters was of ’putting on appearances.’ Not that they have actually investigated the issue properly, but that they wished to be seen to have.

It’s interesting to read of Holmes’ opinion of why this might be. I would like to have heard him indicate if there are any legal angles to this too, something I am not familiar with.

One good thing about his remark. If this ’he said; she said’ ’balance’ is in fact because of schooling by news consumers (at least in part), then those consumers – us – can let them know what we want. Not that I’m overly hopeful that the Board will listen.


* For non-antipodean readers ’over the ditch’ in this part of the world means on the other side of the Tasman Sea that separates New Zealand and Australia.

Other articles on Code for life:

To link or not to link: mainstream media and no links at all

Post-embargo publication delays: be gone

Science communication shorts

Media thought: Ask what is known, not the expert’s opinion

Science journalism–critical analysis, not debate

Banished from science writing. Words, that is.

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