Answer: That sounds like a good little story, can you email me the media release?
(For a giggle, check out What PR people really think of journalists. I’m guilty of a few of those things myself.)
The original title of this post was ‘How many journalists does it take to interview one person and then write 414 words based on an eight-page summary of a report?’. But it wasn’t very catchy. The answer, if you read today’s Sydney Morning Herald, is two.
The journalists: Kelsey Munro, Ben Cubby (repeat offender)
The report: Acceptance of rural wind farms in Australia: a snapshot (this CSIRO page has links to pdfs of the report and the summary)
The only quotes in the SMH story come from Jim Smitham, the CSIRO’s deputy director of energy technology. The story notes that Dr Smitham was “one of the reviewers of the report”. One voice is hardly a balanced story. And how does it take two journalists to get quotes from just one person? If they were journalism students and submitted this story for a news reporting assignment, they’d fail.
I asked the CSIRO’s media department if either journalist spoke to Dr Smitham or if the quotes came from a media release. The answer: no media release was issued, and Kelsey Munro spoke to Dr Smitham. So what did Ben Cubby actually do to warrant his byline on this story? We’re talking about an eight-page report that has lots of pictures, surely it didn’t take two people to understand it? Perhaps he emailed Munro the link to the report.
Baffling journalist behaviour aside, let’s look at the story itself:
A peer-reviewed study by Brisbane researchers investigated attitudes to nine wind farms in various stages of development in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, concluding there was a strong level of support ”from rural residents who do not seek media attention or political engagement to express their views”.
By contrast, more than half of all wind farm proposals had been opposed by members of the Landscape Guardian group, the report noted.
That bit is important, particularly when you consider the final sentence in the story:
The Landscape Guardians could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Right. Is this story time-critical? No, it is not. The report was released on 13 January. So there was no need for it to be published without comment from the Landscape Guardians. Hell, you could even go nuts and interview a third person in order to write a balanced story that was actually useful to readers. After all, Brendan Gullifer from The Courier in Ballarat had quotes from five people his 327 word story: Questions arise over CSIRO wind farm report. Sure, some of those quotes came from media releases, and the article is more about local politics than it is about the report. And it gives more weight to people opposed to wind farms than to the peer-reviewed report, but even with these flaws it’s a lot better than the incredibly lazy offering from the Sydney Morning Herald.
Update 19 Jan: So, Ben Cubby read this post. This is his response on twitter:
Stay classy, Ben.