Tag Archives: bad journalism

Man’s opinion changes between his early 20s and late 40s

I’m still chuckling about people who think that Joe Hockey having a different opinion now to the one he had almost 30 years ago is a BIG STORY.

When Joe Hockey was a uni student in 1987, he protested about the introduction of a $250 admin fee. Now, 27 years later, he’s part of a government that wants to make uni so expensive that students will be in debt for the rest of their lives. Women will cop the worst of it. (I couldn’t find anything on how the changes will affect Indigenous students, but we already know that the Budget hammers Indigenous people, with over $500 million cut from Indigenous affairs, including $160 million cut from Indigenous health programs, $3.5 million cut from the Torres Strait Regional Authority, $15 million cut from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, $9.5 million cut from Indigenous language support, and that’s before you consider the GP co-payment and disgusting cuts to youth welfare. If you have an education link, please let me know and I’ll update this.)

Yesterday, the online editor at smh.com.au ranked the Hockey story in the top spot. The same story was still in tops (“above the fold”) this morning until 10am-ish, albeit with the date changed to today. I haven’t checked News Ltd sites because frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about their coverage.

Please note that I’m not saying it shouldn’t be reported. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t talk about it. What I am saying is that, as far as journalism goes, it shouldn’t be the most important political story of the day. I saw journos on twitter congratulating each other over what a “good get” it was. Huh? That Hockey’s views about tertiary education were different when he was in student politics three decades ago is hardly a “GOTCHA” moment. Not least because his 1987 opposition to the $250 fee was reported last week (and at the time).

Mind you, I’m questioning why it was considered the most important political story on smh.com.au on a day when a video of some guys not getting caught in a tornado made news around the world, so I shouldn’t be surprised and why the hell am I wasting my time getting shitty about this stuff?

I’m yet to see a decent argument about why this story deserves the coverage it got. One argument is that it’s important because the education changes will affect a lot of people.

Yes, the changes do affect a lot of people, but what has a decades-old change of mind got to do with that? If it had happened in the last 12 months, then sure. But it’s probably closer to two decades ago, since he was president of the NSW Young Libs from 1991-1992, and made noises about changing Commonwealth funding of education in his maiden speech to Parliament in 1996. It’s an interesting side story, but it’s hardly OMG IMPORTANT.

Another argument is that it’s important because it gives his views context, and highlights his decision-making process.

Except it doesn’t do either of those things at all.

What does knowing that he said one thing in 1987 and now believes the opposite actually tell us about his decision-making process? Nothing. It tells us nothing.

What context does it provide to the current education debate?

None.

But, you know, writing 466 words about what is said in an old video is a hellava lot easier than doing the kind of journalism that is actually important and useful. Yay, jernalism.

Warped reporting at Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph

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Trigger warning – this post discusses sexual violence.

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It’s tough being a woman. We just walk down the street and then, out of nowhere, an assault happens to us. We need to be particularly careful of these disembodied assaults that just hang around until they can happen at someone. At least, that’s the impression I get when journalists report on violence against women: men don’t assault women, it’s just that women have assaults happen to them.

Today’s story is awful. On Sunday morning, a group of men kidnapped a woman and raped her. I can’t imagine how terrified she must have been and how much it must have hurt. I can’t imagine how any victim of a crime like this copes in the weeks, months, and years afterwards. I really hope that this post does not add to her trauma because that is not my intention at all. My intention is to make journalists think about why they report violence against women in a way that almost removes the perpetrator from the crime.

AAP was the first to report the story. On dailytelegraph.com.au they headlined it Sydney woman abducted and gang-raped by group of men, police say. On smh.com.au they headlined it Sydney teen abducted and sexually assaulted by gang. They are both passive sentences – generally frowned upon in journalism. But it becomes more sinister when you consider that passive sentences are usually used to deflect blame, to be vague about who is responsible, or because the person responsible is unimportant.

Four hours after they published the AAP copy, smh.com.au had an updated version (with two bylines and an additional nine words): ‘I don’t think it gets more serious': woman gang-raped after men ask for directions, police say.

Call me crazy but I think the men did something more serious than ask for directions.

The journalist (Rachel Olding) even includes this sentence at the end:

The victim, who was not affected by alcohol at the time, has been receiving intense counselling and is being supported by her family, Detective Superintendant Kerletec said.

Now, I don’t know if Olding asked the alcohol question, or if another journalist asked it and she reported the answer, or if Kerletec anticipated the question, or if Kerletec believes it’s important, but how is it relevant to a story about other people committing a violent crime? What do journalists think it actually means if she had been drinking? That the crime those men committed is less of a crime? That it’s somehow her fault? That it’s ok for a group of men to assault someone who has been drinking? What? They obviously think it means something important, otherwise they wouldn’t have asked. I’d really like a journalist to let me know why they asked the alcohol question – why they always ask the alcohol question – because I’ve been a journalist and it never occurred to me to ask it.

Here’s the story on smh.com.au:

Standfirst reads: Teen allegedly gang raped after being forced into car by group who asked her for directions.

Standfirst reads: Teen allegedly gang raped after being forced into car by group who asked her for directions.

The men who committed the crime aren’t even mentioned.

Compare that to another crime story below it:

Standfirst reads: Four men attempted a brazen armed robbery near a Sydney shopping centre, witnesses say.

Standfirst reads: Four men attempted a brazen armed robbery near a Sydney shopping centre, witnesses say.

If the robbery story was reported the same way as the assault story, the standfirst would read: “AN Armaguard van was attacked early this morning while parked on a street in Glebe.” It might even include this sentence: “The van, which was not affected by alcohol at the time, had previously been at a bank where it collected a large amount of money.”

But wait, there’s more.

In one story, ‘I don’t think it gets more serious': woman gang-raped after men ask for directions, police say, the criminals are barely mentioned in the first two sentences:

Police say an alleged gang-rape attack on a teenager in Sydney’s north-west is “as worse as it gets”.

The 18-year-old woman was abducted and sexually assaulted by a car load of five men after leaving a house party in Baulkham Hills on Sunday morning, police said.

In the other, Shot fired at Broadway: gang attempts to rob van, the criminals are the main part of the first two sentences:

Four men have attempted a brazen armed robbery of a cash-in-transit van outside a Sydney inner-city shopping centre, witnesses say.

A witness to the incident said three of the men approached the Armaguard truck armed with firearms outside Broadway Shopping Centre at 8:30am on Monday.

Two crime stories, both involving gangs of men, but reported very differently. Why is that?

Here’s the story on dailytelegraph.com.au:

Standfirst reads: A YOUNG woman has been abducted and sexually assaulted by a gang of men after leaving a house party in Sydney's northwest.

Standfirst reads: A YOUNG woman has been abducted and sexually assaulted by a gang of men after leaving a house party in Sydney’s northwest.

The bit mentioning the gang of men is tucked into the middle of the sentence so you don’t really notice it.

Now, compare it to the story below it on the homepage:

Standfirst reads: TWO priests are under investigation by church authorities in Australia and the UK amid allegations they abused two boys in the 1960s and 1980s.

Standfirst reads: TWO priests are under investigation by church authorities in Australia and the UK amid allegations they abused two boys in the 1960s and 1980s.

The focus of sentence is the alleged criminals, not the victims. Again, the opposite of the way journalists report violence against women.

We get this constant stream of “a woman was abducted on the way home, a woman was sexually assaulted while drunk, a woman was assaulted in her home, a woman had something bad happen to her because she was somewhere late at night” because journalists pretend that assault just hangs out on the street waiting for a woman to walk past so it can happen at her. Assault is not something that’s just part of being a woman, like periods or a squirty bot bot after eating three-day-old takeaway that was a bit iffy. Assault is a crime committed by another person. Yet it’s reported as though that other person doesn’t exist. There are two options here: one, journalists don’t bother to think about the words they use; or two, they want us to believe that men aren’t to blame for the majority of assaults against women. So, journalists are either stupid, or they’re arseholes. I don’t know which is worse.

Update:
The smh.com.au story now has video. The caption reads: NSW police are warning women to be cautious on the street after an 18-year-old woman was abducted and sexually assaulted by five men after leaving a house party in Baulkham Hills.

No mention yet about NSW Police warning men not to rape women.

All the better to see pointless journalism

Why do I get the feeling that I’m going to be blogging a lot about stooopid journalism between now and September 14? I kinda feel bad for the Sydney Morning Herald because I always focus on them, but I don’t read News Ltd rubbish so I don’t blog about their nonsense.

Anyway.

Today’s example of pointless journalism is All the better to see the opposition with, by Judith Ireland and Shelly Horton.

Here’s the story in the paper, on page three:

Story about Julia Gillard's glasses in the Sydney Morning Herald

The large blue photo holds the story

Page three is important real estate. Yet almost half of page three is taken up by this story about the Prime Minister’s glasses. Specifically – ooh, it’s a glasses pun – what people on twitter said about the Prime Minister’s glasses.

It took two journalists.

To write 306 words.

About what three people said on twitter.

As the Adelaide writer and “vampire hunter” Michael Scott Hand posted: “I don’t remember seeing Julia Gillard wearing glasses before. Is it because THIS TIME SHE MEANS BUSINESS?”

Some punters hypothesised that the member for Lalor was courting the youth market with the trendy new accessory. “It seems @JuliaGillard is already campaigning to the hipster voters with those new glasses. Well played,” wrote Kath McLellan of Sydney.

Then again, the glasses were suspiciously similar to the pair sported by the outgoing US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. How hipster could that be?

Justin Colee (who describes himself as pro-carbon tax) had other ideas: “did @JuliaGillard borrow her glasses from Greg Combet?”

But they must be three influential people, right? People with thousands of followers, like @GrogsGamut or @HelenRazer? Nope. Michael Scott Hand has 215 followers. Kath McLellan has 29. And Justin Colee has 19 followers on twitter. Only the tweet by Kath McLellan was retweeted, and that was once. Now, I’m not trying to poo on their sandwiches. I’m just questioning the editorial judgement of using two journalists to write a piss-arse story about what three people said on twitter, and then filling almost half of page three with that piss-arse story.

I’d also like to know if Julia Gillard said anything else during her address to the National Press Club on Wednesday. Because the coverage would indicate that she rocked up, said “Election’s on September 14, bitches” and left.

Here’s how the story is promoted on the smh.com.au homepage:

Smh.com.au makes a big deal out of the PM's glasses

It’s a pair of glasses. Get over it.

The caption under the photo of Julia Gillard reads: “What’s with the glasses? Election announcement plays second fiddle to PM’s specs.”

If a pair of regular, everyday glasses has played second fiddle to the Prime Minister’s address to the National Press Club, then it’s your fault, journalists. So what if a few people tweeted about her glasses? THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT THE NATIONAL PRESS GALLERY. If you thought the coverage of the last election was bad – and pretty much everyone did – then just wait to see the rubbish the mainstream media will call “news” this time.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think news has to be stuffy and serious all the time. If it’s stuffy and serious then you’re not thinking enough about how you can tell stories. But honestly, this?

A story about nothing

I love how when you’re thinking about something, you tend to notice examples of it around you. This morning I read ‘Young people, politics and television current affairs in Australia’ by Evans and Sternberg (ref below) and came across this bit:

… young adults also feel it is not worth investing time in television current affairs because any political information received from the programs is usually trivialised and played for entertainment value, (1999, p. 105).

And then I read this article by Jacqueline Maley, in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Gay marriage pledge puts pressure on PM:

THE Prime Minister is again under pressure on the issue of gay marriage as the Labor Premier of Tasmania, Lara Giddings, said she would face down any constitutional challenge of proposed legislation for same-sex marriage in her state.

To get all Journalism 101 on you (and apologies to those who know this), Australian journalists use the “inverted pyramid” model of reporting, in which the first sentence is supposed to give the audience the most important information, and everything after that fills out the story with more detail.

Maley’s first sentence suggests that Julia Gillard has threatened a constitutional challenge. But she hasn’t. According to the story:

The Greens called upon Ms Gillard to rule out a constitutional challenge to the Tasmanian legislation but she did not.

“We don’t have any details on [the Tasmanian gay marriage bill], so it’s far too early for anything like that,” she said.

In other words, she’s not going to comment on a bill she hasn’t seen. Which, frankly, is the appropriate response. You can’t possibly give an informed response to something you haven’t read.

Every time I read about a politician refusing to “rule out” something, I know the story is going to be rubbish. Our group-think political journalists are hooked on the “rule out” game, because it’s a really easy (ie, lazy) way to create controversy. If someone refuses to rule something out, the headline breathlessly implies that the politician is being cagey BECAUSE THEY REFUSED TO RULE IT OUT. If the politician does rule it out and then later changes the policy, then GOTCHA! YOU RULED IT OUT SO YOU’RE A BIG DIRTY LIAR AND THAT WE’VE CAUGHT YOU IN YOUR BIG DIRTY LIE MEANS WE’RE DOING OUR JOBS PROPERLY. The idea that a politician should rule something out forever and ever amen, even if the situation changes, is terrifying (check out the scariest graph in the world).

The Greens know journos love the “rule out” game and journos dutifully played right along.

The story is 548 words. The last 129 words are on leadership bullshit, so we can immediately delete them. And there’s 107 on Cairns getting the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in 2014, so we can delete that too. What we’re left with is 312 words about a constitutional challenge that no one has proposed, to legislation that may or may not even be drafted, that happens to be different to two pieces of federal legislation that are not named or explained (the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 for more info), and no mention of when the two parliaments will deal with the relevant bills that might trigger the constitutional challenge that no one has proposed. If the purpose of the news media is to inform the audience, then that’s a massive fail.

Now, back to that first sentence, about how Gillard is “again under pressure on the issue of gay marriage”. As she says in the story:

“The Marriage Act is a federal law and we do have a bill before the federal Parliament dealing with same-sex marriage,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Cairns. “I determined that this should be a conscience vote for the Labor Party and people will be free to determine how they vote.”

So, the pressure we’re talking about is pressure for Gillard to change her personal opinion. There are two options here:

1. Journalists are trying to get Gillard to change her opinion on marriage equality because ending discrimination is the right thing to do. But if ending discrimination is the goal, then they should be pressuring Abbott to allow a conscience vote because that would ensure the bill’s success. Journalists couldn’t be so stupid as to think that Gillard changing her personal view is all that’s needed for the bill to succeed, could they?

2. Journalists have already written their BACKFLIP!!!!!!!! stories and really, really want to publish them. And then Abbott will say something about how women change their minds and so can’t be trusted, and then the journos will write about how feminists have “branded the Opposition Leader’s comments as sexist”, and then they’ll get to write about leadership tensions because the PM changed her mind and hey look, there’s another week in which they don’t have to do their jobs properly.

From the Maley story:

Ms Gillard would not countenance a question on the security of her leadership, saying: “I can’t be bothered with any of that today.”

Neither can we, Prime Minister. Neither can we.

References:
Evans, V. & Sternberg, J. (1999), ‘Young people, politics and television current affairs in Australia’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 23, no. 63, pp. 103-109.

In Lara Bingle vs the MSM, I am on Team Lara

The 697 people (so far) who’ve found my blog in the last 24 hours searching for “Lara Bingle nude on balcony” alerted me to the fact that someone has taken a photo of Lara Bingle nude on a balcony and told the MSM in order to drum up interest in the photo. I’m quick like that. It’s a shame the MSM isn’t so quick to realise how they’re being used, but why should entertainment reporters be any different to political reporters?

I’m going to pick on News.com.au because their story is the most ridiculous: Lara Bingle feels ‘violated’ by nude photos, by Chris Paine and Owen Vaughan. And no, I have no idea how it took two journalists to write 505 words about their Google searches, with just a single interview that resulted in one sentence making it into the story. Two journalists!

First, let me show you the bullet points at the start of the story. This will be important later:

News.com.au bullet points

The bullet points on the News.com.au Lara Bingle story.

And now the story:

LARA Bingle says she feels “violated” and “emabarrassed” by paparazzi photos of her naked on her balcony.

I’m embarrassed that neither journalist can spell “embarrassed”. But picking on typos is unfair, when there’s so much more to pick on about this story. Did I mention it took two journalists to write it?

I’d also like to point out that the photos aren’t of Lara Bingle on the balcony. She was inside her home and closing the balcony door. INSIDE HER HOME. The photos were first aired on A Current Affair (Channel 9) last night. Which means that no one in charge at ACA and no one in charge at News.com.au is bothered by the fact that it is a massive invasion of your privacy to have someone take photos of you inside your own home. Is that the kind of “journalism” they support? How many steps do you reckon it is from publishing photos of someone inside their home to hacking someone’s phone?

It is the fourth nude photo scandal to beset Bingle, and it has left her clearly upset.

Despite reporting that Bingle is “clearly upset” about these photos being plastered across news sites – as anyone would be – News.com.au is still running the photos and the story nice and large on the website. News Ltd sites love nothing more than sticking the boot into Lara Bingle while simultaneously using her as clickbait.

But what are these four nude photo scandals?

Photos of her topless in a field, taken seven years ago, appeared on websites in 2007.

You mean photos that were taken when she was possibly underaged and then sold overseas by the photographer and published in German GQ magazine and it would have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the MSM yelling “CLICK HERE TO SEE NUDE BINGLE BOOBIES!”. It says a lot about the MSM’s attitude towards Lara Bingle that the person who made money from selling the photographs is believed, but the person in the photos is not.

A mobile-phone snap of her in a shower, allegedly taken by her then lover, former AFL player Brendan Fevola, when they had a brief fling in 2006, was first published in 2010. Those pics contributed to the breakdown of her relationship with cricketer Michael Clarke, to whom she was engaged.

A photo that News.com.au gleefully ran across their homepage ALL DAY. A photo that any idiot could see Bingle had not consented to. A photo that Fevola reportedly showed to all his mates and a bunch of sports journos, and despite him being married, the journos portrayed it as her scandal, not his. You tell me, what’s more scandalous: a young woman in a nude photo she doesn’t want taken, or a married man taking a nude photo of a woman without her consent and then showing it to his workmates and the media. It’s pretty embarrassing for journalists that they can’t even get the scandal right.

Sources said a different set of photos showing the bikini model sunbathing topless on Bondi Beach were offered to magazines several weeks ago, though apparently there were no takers.

“Sources said”? I call bullshit. That just sounds like someone wanting to have a go at her.

And now, wait for it… the single quote that it took two journalists to get:

“She’s really upset and embarrased about this invasion of privacy,” she told news.com.au.

That was really worth the wait, wasn’t it? Two journalists! And they still can’t spell “embarrassed”. (I really hope there are no typos in this post…)

While Bingle is believed to be upset about the most recent shots, the drama surrounding their taking and attempted sale will only focus more attention on her reality show, which is being made for Channel 10.

Remember those bullet points?

But some claim the whole thing is a stunt

With no reference to ANYONE who may be making that claim, we can only assume that it’s Paine or Vaughan making that claim. It’s not really journalism is it, to report your opinion as though it’s someone else’s?

Sure, it could be a stunt. But without a single piece of evidence in this story indicating that it could be a stunt, I’m inclined to believe that it’s just the journos making it up.

Whatever you do, don’t read the comments. Remember, these are the ones that a journalist read and thought “yes, that’s fine to publish”.

Like this one:
Brett of Perth Posted at 2:13 PM Today
Who hasn’t seen it all before anyway and if Fevola didnt want it, how hot can it be?

Clearly hot enough for Brett of Perth to click on the story in order to see naked photos of her. How stupid can Brett of Perth be?

Update May 14: Still don’t think News Ltd websites use the words “Lara Bingle nude” to increase traffic? Check out the links at the bottom of yesterday’s story. These links were manually added by a journalist:

Links in Daily Telegraph's Lara Bingle story

Dailytelegraph.com.au demonstrates just how much they rely on Lara Bingle for traffic

A new low in journalism

The third top story on News.com.au tonight is a photo of the dining table inside Whitney Houston’s hotel room. [Update: I originally published this post with a screengrab of the story, but having that photo on my blog didn't sit well with me. It made me just as bad as them. So, it's gone.]

Third top by placement, put there by an editor. I ummed and ahhed about clicking on it, but needed the timestamp. It’s been there for five hours. Five hours. Since it’s 9.30pm, that’s most likely two shifts. Two different news editors have decided that it’s ok to run this story.

News.com.au is running images of Whitney Houston's hotel room

A new low in Australian journalism

The first – apparently most important – bullet point: Whitney’s last meal: Hamburger, fries, turkey sandwich. Followed by speculation.

Do we need to know what Whitney Houston had for dinner? No. The answer is no. It’s 99.9999999 out of 100 times always no.

It is grief porn. It has no real news value. It is there to make people think they might see something gory. For shame, News.com.au, for shame.

Update: I published too quickly. It’s the main pic at dailytelegraph.com.au, with the caption:

SEE inside the hotel room of tragic pop star Whitney Houston before her death, including the final meal she ordered.

It’s not a fucking theme park ride.

No I in the first par

Every Sunday I like to read the paper. And every Sunday when I get to the magazine, I get the same old shit.

Today’s Sunday Life in the Sun Herald, article by Helena de Bertodano on January Jones, first sentence:

I am sitting in the bar of the Loews Hotel in New Orleans waiting for January Jones, the actress who plays the immaculate Betty Draper in the hit television series Mad Men, set in the early 1960s.

Have you ever read such an uninspired first sentence in all your life? Each week the celebrity story begins the same way: I am sitting somewhere posh waiting for someone famous. Well guess what? If you’ve interviewed the celebrity, then I can work out that you either met them in person or spoke to them on the phone. I’m clever like that.

The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Good Weekend is not immune either. Poor Man Friend is often startled when I hurl the damn thing to the floor in disgust.

Not only is “I’m sitting in the place waiting for the person” the most boring way to start a feature, it’s arrogant. There is a place for using “I” in a feature, but I haven’t seen it done well in a long, long time. And that’s a shame.