Monday, 3 December 2007

Vox pops are a rite of passage for all wannabe hacks.

We know the drill: ask the participants their name, age, where they live, and what they do. Fine. This week however, when I was reading the Islington Gazette, something jarred withe me.

One of the eight panel-members' description read like this:'Philip Davis, 54, disabled, of Tollington Park, said: "I've got no kids and I used to go to public school but I imagine [wearing school uniform] is of paramount importance."

Sorry? Is being disabled an occupation? Let me just point out that nowhere did I read: ‘Joe Bloggs, 29, an able-bodied accountant, said…’

I can imagine how the conversation between the journalist and Mr Davis might have gone - what do you do, oh, well, I’m not working at the moment, I’m on disability allowance, or whatever - but surely it is a combination of lazy journalism and politically correct anxiety not to probe a bit further, without being offensive or intrusive - ‘what would be the best thing for me to put as your occupation?’, ‘what were you doing before you were on benefits?’ etc. It’s not as if disabled people can’t work and contribute to society. The journalist is perpetuating the social attitude that while an able-bodied person can have many facets to his personality, a disabled person’s identity does not extend beyond his physical incapacity.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Fantasy vs. reality

I am finding the chasm between the public's perception of local issues, and reality, quite interesting, if not a little frustrating. After only a little probing, leads for on-patch stories vanish before you can say "can I quote you on that?".

One shopworker told me that Gibson Square, where he lives, has "so much dog shit it's not even funny.

"Go," he urged me, "and see for yourself how much there is. It's unbelieveable."

Off I trundled, and spent about twenty minutes, eyes to the ground, combing the pavements and parks for evidence, and getting strange looks.Well, what a load of crap! Or rather, not. Not a turd to be seen. I've been several times, and have encountered the odd poo, but certainly not the open sewer I was promised. Bang went my story.

This has happened a fair few times. Shop assistants have told me things they've heard through word-of-mouth, the issue has got simplified along the way and blown out of proportion, and I think I've got a splash. But a little research reveals it wouldn't even be a valid NIB.

Which all goes to show how important double - and triple - sourcing is in journalism, and how lazy journalism can lead to misrepresentation and, ultimately, the reporter getting mired in the brown stuff.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Journalists are notoriously cack-handed when quoting statistics to back up their stories, and something I heard on the 'Today' programme this morning only served to strengthen this stereotype.

It was a report by Nick Easton about how statistics have shown that the family has not significantly declined since a previous report published in the 1950s. The report stated that in fact families are still close-knit, and many people value their family relationships more than any other, despite the family dynamic having changed.

But then he illustrated this with the following statistic: "The average distance we live from our most emotionally important relation is 80 miles."

To me this did not help to illustrate the point the reporter wanted to make. I mean, I know the sample would have been quite large and therefore more representative than what I'm about to say, but...

From my persective, having lived abroad a number of times, my answer to the question "How far do you live from your most emotionally important relation" would have depended on when you asked me. Moreover, my actual relationship with my family did not change according to my geographical location.

I'm definitely not unique in having lived abroad, as we are a much more mobile society nowadays, so the percentage quoted on 'Today' must be misleading.

As for six of my best friends, if I conducted a survey on the average distance we live from our parents, one result would throw out all the others. One of my friends lives in South Korea, while the rest of us live in England. This reveals nothing about the emotional closeness we may or not enjoy with our families.

What use is the survey's statistic in revealing how emotionally involved we are to our families, especially taking into account communications technology? Quantitative data can't reflect the qualitative nature of family relationships, so why did Nick Easton include that statistic in his report at all?

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Single Sarko

Not sure the French public will really care as much as we do about Sarkozy's extra-marital shenanigans and divorce. In the past they have been much more objective about the issue, taking affairs and long-term lovers as a given. The attitude towards the Lewinsky scandal in the US was a Gallic shrug. I think the Daily Mail might report on Sarko's singledom longer than the French papers, although I could be wildly wrong. Don't think Le Divorce will deter him from waxing lyrical on La Famille though.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Food, glorious food

Two of the three articles I looked at this morning on Brown's approval of the EU Treaty described what he ate at the EU dinner the night before. Is this normal? Do we need to know?

For the record, they ate vegetable crepes, grilled sole, and chocolate cake (the Independent goes into more detail for any foodies out there.) This was mentioned in paragraphs two and three. I suppose it's a way of getting colour in the piece, but is this level of detail necessary? And why were we not told what they drank? Were they wasted on champagne while waving through the tedious details? Why are we not told what lunch consists of at all official meetings?

I thought it was quite interesting how the context of each article gave the same detail a different tone.

The Mail, (which also has a quote from the UKIP leader describing what would happen "in a SENSIBLE world..."), made Brown seem like a decadent chancer who had just turned up for the free meal: 'He took the biggest gamble of his short Premiership over a dinner of vegetable crepes, grilled sole and chocolate cake.'

The Independent made Brown part of a committed struggle, 'seeking to reassure', 'beginning tasks', and 'safeguarding' red lines, and the description of the meal in this context gave him and the other leaders a civilised air. ('The treaty was discussed last night by EU leaders in Lisbon over a dinner of crêpe of vegetables, grilled sole with saffron rice and chocolate cake and strawberries.')

But was it really necessary?!