Category Archives: Journalism and the free press

Meaningless without perspective

Remember “Jaws,” when the guys on the Orca first spot the shark? Hooper, Richard Dreyfus’ character, asks Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, to step out on the bowsprit, over the water, so he can take a photo of the shark. Brody’s not interested, but Hooper knew what he was doing: without the police …

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Without verification

Since receiving considerable — and justified — criticism for helping Trump’s election with false equivalence coverage, media outlets have become better about adding “he said without evidence” caveats whenever the president says or tweets something outrageous. However, it appears for now that they’re applying that lesson to only one subject: the president himself. This is …

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Be alert to hedging language designed to ‘make things fuzzier’

In the wake of this past weekend’s events in Charlottesville, I thought it might be helpful to consider science’s understanding of hedging language, and how word choices can color our understanding of news coverage and officials’ responses. Hedging language uses cautious wording to imply lower certainty in a statement. Cognitive linguist/philosopher George Lakoff wrote famously …

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What is journalism’s fundamental purpose?

Despite the nonsensical accusations that they’re “fake news,” some of the leading members of the mainstream print media in the U.S. haven’t helped to distinguish themselves recently. Beyond the often-irresponsible “narrative” journalism they pursued ahead of the 2016 presidential election, outlets like The New York Times and the Boston Globe have stumbled badly under the …

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Blacklists are wrong way to distinguish ‘fake’ news sites from real ones

Recently, I’ve seen far too many attempts to distinguish “good” news sources from “fake” and biased ones through the use of blacklists, usually long lists of news sources identified as suspect with no explanation or evidence provided, and often in a suspiciously even mix of left-wing and right-wing sites (i.e., “both-siderism” clearly at work). This …

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Some writers have no idea what they’re trying to say

Is it just me, or has the dramatic shift from reading on paper to reading on a screen — and, even more dramatically, to reading on a mobile screen — had a detrimental effect on written logic, reasoning and rhetorical skills? I’ve begun thinking so increasingly frequently, especially with every online feature or thinkpiece I …

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Digital journalism: A cautionary tale

The brave new world of digital journalism can be more dystopian than utopian, as author Tony Horwitz recently discovered. In his op-ed in the New York Times, Horwitz recounts that sorry tale of months of hard work and unpaid efforts that all but disappeared down the drain. “As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, writers …

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This is how you unmask online hoaxers

A PandoDaily article by Jeremy Massler and Adam L. Penenberg provides a brilliant illustration of how online investigative journalism should work. In their March 26, 2014, article, “Busted! How we unmasked the man behind the Internet’s cruelest celebrity death hoaxes,” Massler and Penenberg describe how persistence and paintstaking research enabled them to identify the man …

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Uncritically quoting sources who are wrong? That’s wrong

Journalist Steve Buttry has an excellent post on his blog about why journalists — not sources — are to blame when news stories prove to be inaccurate. Reporters, he writes, have an obligation to “find the truth and to verify the facts that appear important enough for us to publish” … not to shrug off …

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Dismal, yes. Scientific dissent? Not so much

One might think, judging from the BBC headline — “Dissent among scientists over key climate impact report” — about the coming new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that there is great controversy and disagreement among the hundreds of contributing scientist-authors over the report’s conclusions. One would be wrong. After noting that “some …

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