Recently, someone recommended I read The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang. Just finished it about an hour ago. I liked it a lot.
Here’s an example of some typical local shock journalism. It’s a short article, so I’m going to analyze the reporting, discuss what the journalist probably meant, and reflect on why writing like this exists in the first place. (Note: I am going only off the written article; I have not watched the video.) Here’s the story, written by a reporter named Paul Orlousky:
KENT, OH (WOIO) –
Police in Kent are warning parents about a danger most probably never thought about — the possibility of drugs or blood contamination on a rest
room baby changing station.
Claim 1: Police in Kent are warning parents.
What does it mean that police in Kent are “warning parents”? Do police officers have a master list of addresses of people with children and going door to door? Are they posting fliers? Are they issuing alerts on emergency frequencies? Are they driving around neighborhoods delivering a warning message through a bullhorn out the window? Or did one police representative issue a vaguely cautionary statement to a reporter? Orlousky should have been more specific here.
Claim 2: Most parents “never thought about” contamination on a public changing station.
Does Orlousky have children? When you use one of those changing stations, usually the first thought you have as you’re opening it is “How gross is this thing? What can I wipe it off with? What can I lay down on top of it so my kid doesn’t touch it?” Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s only me and all the other parents I know who think like that. It’s my word against Orlousky’s because Orlousky doesn’t provide any evidence for his claim. (I was about to add “The difference is, it’s his job to provide evidence,” but actually, it isn’t! He’s only a journalist, not someone we should look to for trustworthy information.)
An incident Friday drew attention to the matter.
Whose attention? Where was their attention before then?
A man went into the Sheetz gas station on North Mantua and went straight to the bathroom. An employee had seen him do it before, according to Kent Lt. Michael Lewis.
“The employee was aware enough to realize that he had seen this type of behavior before from this same subject. The employee also believed the man who we now know is Jason Fischer had gotten high there before, so he called police, who responded quickly,” said Lewis.
When the officer went into the bathroom, the stall door was closed but he could see someone was standing inside through the crack. He ordered him to open the door.
The guy refused and the officer looked inside and saw Fischer shooting up, Lewis said.
I’m surprised “the guy” is considered an acceptable way to describe a man according to a major news outlet’s reporting styleguide. Then again, no I’m not. Or maybe Orlousky just forgot to put quote marks around the statement.
“He had the drugs prepared on the baby changing station in the bathroom stall, which is something very, very concerning to us,” Lewis said.
Also concerning, it appeared there was blood on the baby changing station.
Also concerning to Lt. Lewis? To Orlousky? To us readers? I’m touched that Orlousky is concerned, but isn’t his job to report the facts and not interject his opinion of whether they are “concerning”? (The answer is no. His job is to maximize clicks.)
The drugs are thought to be heroin or fentanyl. Fentanyl is 100 times as powerful as morphine and could easily be absorbed through the skin, and even more easily into a baby’s skin laying on the station.
Dosage is important here, but Orlousky doesn’t bother with those details. His job is to get us scared. Also, he said there was blood on the changing station, but it is very doubtful an IV user would leave drugs there. Orlousky would know that if he spent 15 minutes researching IV drug use. (And maybe he did research it–but again, Orlousky’s job is not to provide a complete picture of the facts, it’s to make readers alarmed.)
Police fear that most people don’t know that gas stations and other areas with public bathrooms are hotbeds for drug deals and almost immediate drug use.
If he was trying to sound more serious, Orlousky could have written “Lt. Lewis said police want the public to be informed about drug activity in gas stations and other areas with public bathrooms,” but that wouldn’t have had the words “fear” and “hotbed” in it. Are people actually ignorant of what goes on in gas station bathrooms? And are police actually “fearful”?
The bit about “almost immediate” drug use is odd. Does it matter whether the drug use is immediate, almost immediate, or if the delay between deal and use is measured not in nanoseconds but in minutes or hours?
Orlousky is probably trying to paint us a portrait of the drug user as desperate, impatient, scurrying hurriedly away from his drug deal to go get the stuff into his veins as fast as possible, hands shaking, mouth watering, eyes twitching nervously about like a scared rabbit. But that wouldn’t sound like journalism, so Orlousky had to write “almost immediate drug use” instead.
Another fear is young children walking into a public rest room alone, they could walk into someone using, or needles or residue left behind.
Whose fear? The police’s? Or Orlousky’s? Apparently he is suggesting it become one of ours.
I say “apparently” because I don’t think Orlousky is actually sitting at his computer cackling about how frightened he is manipulating his readers into being. More likely he knows that the number of clicks on his news stories will be related to his career success. Being a journalist was always tough, but in a world of blogs and alternative outlets and e-zines and social media and Buzzfeeds, conventional journalists are in a shrinking pond. Orlousky is feeling a crushing incentive to write stories in a way that maximize clicks while not crossing some boundary into non-journalism, and he is rationally using all the rhetorical tricks at his disposal in order to do so. What I’m illustrating in this post is the subtle, blurry, hazard-laden nature of that boundary. In fact I don’t believe there is one: journalism is nothing more than a posture.
Scott Adams dissects how a journalist
bent the truth did her job in an article about him: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/158709087061/some-fake-news-about-me-from-bloomberg
No matter how you feel about Adams or his most notable blogging topic, Trump’s persuasion skills, this is worth reading as an example of how journalism works.
I approve most comments people post on here, obviously including ones where people disagree with me, but by now I’ve had a few situations where I haven’t let comments go through.
Sorry, but I don’t have any solid rules about this I could post as a comment policy. I figure if I do then there will always be edge cases and exceptions, and I don’t feel like dealing with that, so the only real policy is “It’s my blog, I get to decide, too bad.”
That’s not very benevolent of me though, so as an olive branch here are some basic guidelines:
- Say as controversial a thing as you like, but if your comments are nasty and designed to make someone angry rather than make them think, I’ll probably delete them.
- I can forgive the occasional typo, misspelling, or grammar error–I’m prone to them myself–but if you insist on never using punctuation or always using caps lock or whatever else so that your comments are barely readable, I’ll probably delete them.
- The more of your comments I approve, the more leniency you get next time. Similarly, the more of your comments I veto, the less leniency you get next time.
I’ll try to stick to those guidelines but I could totally see myself accidentally veering from them, so if you feel I have not been fair please post a comment letting me know and stating your case. I promise I’ll read and seriously consider it (unless it is blatantly nasty or unreadable of course).
In America, sports has an s on the end of it, thank goodness. The British-style sport (as in, “I enjoy watching sport on the tellie“) simply doesn’t sound right with an American accent.
Reuters’s editor-in-chief assures us that his organization is honest, fair, unbiased, impartial, and every other thumb-sucking cliche journalists whisper to themselves in the bathroom mirror each morning. Let’s see if he’s right.
In their “Pictures of the Month” collection, Reuters includes this image from Trump’s inauguration. Read the caption.
These are people “reacting” to Trump’s inauguration, Reuters tells us. Is that honest?
Reuters is telling us this girl came all the way to DC with her MAGA cap and her digital camera, but when the time came for Trump to actually be inaugurated she looked hurt and afraid. What a poor, naive little soul, but at least she’s come to her senses. Should we pity her, or is she really just a racist scumbag worthy of only our derision? (I mean, she clearly has the hat.) We’ll never know because it’s impossible for employees of Reuters to walk up to strangers and ask them questions.
At least the Reuters camera doesn’t lie: look at the deep contrast, the saturated dark tones, the vignetting! Reuters’s editor-in-chief would remind us that these are not post-production effects; it’s exactly what your eye would have seen had you been there. It was just as melancholy a time as it looked for those poor Trump supporters who, judging by their faces, either suddenly realized what a terrible error they made or else decided they truly didn’t care what was going on and retreated into unrelated private conversations, proving what decent we people knew all along: that these are fickle and stupid know-nothings with short attention spans whose votes ought to be discounted.
Yes, Reuters informs us this crowd is reacting during Trump’s inauguration. It couldn’t possibly be that it was bitter cold that day, that the ceremony wasn’t actually going on at the moment the photograph was taken, or that these people are actually not reacting to anything but rather are in the process of walking from one part of the Washington Mall to another. There’s no way the girl in the foreground is looking down in order to make sure she doesn’t trip over a curb or something…no, she’s obviously feeling consternation and embarrassment about her ideological choices. A journalist’s job is to portray the truth of that moment forthrightly, and there can be no doubt that’s what has been done here.
That Trump’s supporters are filled with anxiety and fear at the demon they have unleashed is an important thing for us to know about, and we should feel grateful for the service Reuters has bravely performed for us. We are now better appraised of the truth, and Trump was not just wrong but delusional to call journalists dishonest. Thank you Reuters.
There’s no way to ask whether something is a joke without ruining the joke, in case it is one.
Hypothesis: Populations in which people are more prone to creativity and more averse to falling in line will have languages that evolve more slowly.
My theory is that one major way languages evolve is when lots of people hear a new word or term for an idea they already have a word or term for, but update their language to stay fashionable.
An interesting counter-intuitive result would be that more dynamic populations have less dynamic languages, and vice versa.
These days “making” usually refers to electrical engineering-type crafts with 3-D printing and Arduinos and soldering and writing code in Linux, but I will always remember that not too long ago it simply meant pooping.
Language is an open source technology, so it’s surprising there’s as much agreement on the meaning of words as there is.