Tag Archives: journalism fail

How embarrassing for professional journalists

Oh COME ON, journalists. How can you still be getting this wrong?

This time it’s someone at AAP for writing it, and someone at smh.com.au for running it: Teenage girl sexually assaulted in Sydney toilet block:

A teenage girl has been forced off a Sydney train and then sexually assaulted in a toilet block at the station, police say.

Despite what journalists write, assaults do not just loiter in dark places, waiting to happen at someone like some sort of Vashta Nerada. Assault is a crime committed by a person, so why is it reported differently? It’s the only crime they report this way.

Unless the story was written by a journo who knows what they’re doing, you can bet that the man who committed the crime isn’t mentioned in the first sentence. When I was a journo, it was drummed into us that most people only read the first sentence of a story – two sentences if it’s interesting – so you have to get the important stuff in there quick smart. Quite often, the man who committed the crime isn’t mentioned until the third or fourth sentence. I wonder, is it deliberate, or just incompetence?

I know, I know, it seems like such a minor point. But it’s not. It frames the way people think about male violence against women, and the result is that when we talk about it, we use sentences like “a woman was assaulted on the train”, “a young girl was assaulted in a park”, “a woman was assaulted while walking home”, “a woman was assaulted at a party”. The focus is on where the victim was and what she was doing, rather than on the person who committed the crime. When you talk about violence only in relation to women, then it’s seen as a problem for women to solve. Which is bullshit.

This is the story:

A teenage girl has been forced off a Sydney train and then sexually assaulted in a toilet block at the station, police say.

The 17-year-old girl was on a train when a man allegedly approached her and began talking to her around 12.30pm (AEDT) on Wednesday.

The 34-year-old man then forced her off the train and into a toilet block at Strathfield station in Sydney’s inner west, where he sexually assaulted her, police allege.

He then fled the scene and emergency services were called.

A short time later, police said they found the man and arrested him.

He was charged with sexual assault and will appear at Burwood Local Court on Thursday.

Oh, so the story is actually that a man has been arrested for assaulting someone. Here AAP and SMH, let me write it for you, using your language:

Man arrested for assaulting teen

A man has been charged with sexual assault after attacking a teenage girl.

The 34-year-old man allegedly approached the 17-year-old girl on a train and began talking to her around 12.30pm (AEDT) on Wednesday.

He then forced her off the train and into a toilet block at Strathfield station in Sydney’s inner west, where he sexually assaulted her, police allege.

He then fled the scene and emergency services were called.

A short time later, police said they found the man and arrested him.

He will appear at Burwood Local Court on Thursday.

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Update 24 Jan: This morning, The Daily Telegraph has two stories about the alleged rape (also run on News.com.au). In one, reporter Jim O’Rourke caught the train and asked women if they were going to be more careful from now on – proving that he has absolutely no idea about the issue he is reporting on. If all it took was women to “be careful”, then there wouldn’t be any rape or sexual assault. In the second story, O’Rourke includes two gratuitous photos of the toilet. That’s gross and unnecessary.

One more time for the slow learners

Warning: This post discusses male violence against women.

I can’t believe I have to write this post again.

Again again.

So, one more time for the journalists who still don’t get it: when you write your news stories about male violence against women, you need to stop pretending that there is no perpetrator of that violence.

It’s not like they don’t know how to report accurately, because they do it with other crime stories. But when it comes to reporting male violence against women, they like to pretend that violence is a cloud of gas that just hangs in the air waiting to happen at women. No other crime is reported as though there was no criminal.

Let’s start with this story on theage.com.au a few days ago: Tom Meagher says parole board ignored his emails: report. It’s been updated with comments by Victoria’s police commissioner Ken Lay since it was first published, but for most of the day the beginning of the story matched the headline. These were the first two pars (they’ve now been pushed a little lower):

Jill Meagher’s husband has lashed out at the Adult Parole Board, saying it disrespected him and its members are cowards after it failed to answer a series of questions about why her killer was free to prowl the streets and murder his wife.

Ms Meagher was snatched off the street while she was walking home in Brunswick last September. She was raped and strangled in an alley off Sydney Road before being buried in a shallow grave near Gisborne, north of Melbourne.

In the paragraph detailing Adrian Bayley’s crimes, he isn’t mentioned. Not even once. His actions are completely removed from him and just hang there, as things that happened to Jill Meagher.

Now look at this story by Maria Bervanakis on news.com.au today:

All these things that just happened to the girl.

All these things that just happened to the girl.

Again, there isn’t a single mention of the men who committed the crimes. The headline is terrible – Girl, 15, held on pot farm where she was locked in toolbox and used for sex – and the story begins:

A MISSING teenager was held captive on a marijuana farm in California where police allege she was locked up in a metal toolbox for days on end and used as a sex slave.

Wrong wrong wrong. It SHOULD read: Two men have been arrested for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl.

Update 29 July: Smh.com.au has done the same thing today with this story:

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

Apart from the fact that the headline has nothing to do with the standfirst, the online journo has connected the violence to the woman, not the men who did it.

And one more, this story from smh.com.au’s Megan Levy yesterday (hat tip to Femo bear for sending it to me): Father abducts son at knifepoint from Sydney home:

A car allegedly used to abduct a baby boy from a home in Sydney’s west has been found abandoned in Bargo, but police say there is still no sign of the child or his father.

The Toyota Camry was found on Avon Dam Road about 6.50am on Friday, nearly 12 hours after the eight-month-old boy and the baby’s 16-year-old mother were abducted from their home in Chester Hill at knifepoint.

It’s not until half way through the story – 7 pars in – that Levy reports that the man assaulted the woman. Hell, she didn’t even mention in the first sentence that he abducted her as well. It would have been terrifying – he has an AVO against him and he had a knife – but Levy almost ignores the man’s violence towards the woman. Why? Seriously, I’d really like to know why journalists report this way. If you’re a journalist, please let us know. (If you’re nervous about commenting, check out my comment policy. It’s a civil ship around here.)

Update 31 July: Dailytelegraph.com.au has done the same thing today:

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

Oops, the journos at dailytelegraph.com.au forgot to mention that he also allegedly abducted a woman.

And here’s the story: On-the-run dad hands himself in to Bankstown police:

A MAN, 24, who allegedly abducted his baby son last week handed himself into Bankstown police late last night.

Police spent more than five days searching for the man, who is accused of taking the eight-month-old and his ex-girlfriend from their south-western Sydney home on Thursday.

There she is, tucked into the middle of the sentence.

It’s really important that journalists stop pretending that there’s no one responsible for male violence against women. As Jane Tribune writes in this excellent piece, the way the media frames information “influences, if not dictates, how we think of it”. When you continuously remove the male perpetrator from the story – when you continuously pretend that violence is just something that happens to women – it’s not surprising that so many people still wrongly believe that it’s caused by something the woman did. Because how do we stop men being violent towards women if the public conversation we have about that violence says men aren’t responsible for it?

Reporting Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp

There’s something quite sinister about the way the mainstream media reports violence against beautiful women. The focus on the woman’s appearance always has a touch of “she drove him mad with her beauty” (he couldn’t help himself) or “he loved her so much he had to kill her” (aww, romantic) that sits very uneasily with me.

Reeva Steenkamp was killed yesterday. Her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, has been charged with murder. I can’t imagine the grief and the loss that her friends and family are feeling, and I really hope that blogging about the coverage does not cause them more tears. I decided to blog about it because I think there’s something sick about the words that journalists are using.

This is the way smh.com.au presents the story on their homepage:

The caption reads: Pistorius murder 'shock': Police attended previous "domestic incidents" before "Blade Runner" allegedly shot dead girlfriend

The caption reads: Pistorius murder ‘shock’ Police attended previous “domestic incidents” before “Blade Runner” allegedly shot dead girlfriend.

Reeva Steenkamp is the main image, but she isn’t even named. I’m quite surprised they didn’t get “model” in there somewhere – “Model ‘murdered’ by Olympian” is more their style.

This is the headline: ‘Obviously we are shocked’: Pistorius charged with murder of model girlfriend. Again, no mention of Reeva’s name, she’s just a model girlfriend. An interchangeable pretty woman. But there’s something else going on here. The art of headline writing is lost online, because journalists include every term that someone might plug into a search engine to find the story (just as I have included both names in the headline and tags of this post). Which means the journos at smh.com.au don’t think anyone would be searching for Reeva Steenkamp’s name. Why is that?

This is how the story refers to Reeva Steenkamp, from the first par to the last:

South African police have charged Olympic amputee sprint star Oscar Pistorius with the Valentine’s Day murder of his glamorous model girlfriend, but played down reports she was mistaken for a burglar… charges of killing 30-year-old model Reeva Steenkamp… The blonde was shot four times… Steenkamp, once a FHM magazine cover girl…

These are the only mentions by the journalist in a 736 word story about her death. (There’s a quote from Pistorius’ father – “Our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved in this tragedy” – and a quote from Sarit Tomlins at Steenkamp’s management agency – “the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth” – but I didn’t include them because they’re not the journalist’s words.) Keep in mind that of those 736 words, the last 383 are about his “colourful private life full of model girlfriends, guns and fast cars” and his achievements as an athlete.

Smh.com.au has a second main image on this story as well:

The caption reads: Reeva's final love tweet: She was excited about Valentine's Day. Hours later the girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius was dead.

The caption reads: Reeva’s final love tweet: She was excited about Valentine’s Day. Hours later the girlfriend of Oscar Pistorius was dead.

The story – ‘A day of love for everyone’: model tweeted before being shot dead in home of Pistorius – is fucking appalling:

The leggy blonde model tweeted that Valentine’s Day should be “a day of love for everyone.” Instead Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead in the home of her boyfriend, paralympian superstar Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with her murder… the glamorous South African celebrity… The freckled blonde who appeared in scanty bikinis on magazine covers and sashayed down fashion ramps…


This is how dailytelegraph.com.au presents the story on their homepage:

The caption reads: Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder over the shooting death of his model girlfriend.

The caption reads: Paralympic and Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder over the shooting death of his model girlfriend.

Although Steenkamp isn’t mentioned in the caption, the main image is the person charged with the crime (as is the case with every crime story, unless the victim is an attractive woman).

The headline is Oscar Pistorius charged with murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and this is how the story refers to Steenkamp:

PARALYMPIC superstar Oscar Pistorius has been charged with the murder of his girlfriend who was shot inside his home in South Africa, a stunning development in the life of a national hero known as the Blade Runner for his high-tech artificial legs… Reeva Steenkamp, a model who spoke out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women, was shot four times… Police have played down reports that Pistorius shot dead Steenkamp thinking she was an intruder, saying they had dealt with domestic incidents at his residence and will oppose bail… Pistorius was at his home at the time of the death of Steenkamp… earlier reports that Steenkamp may have been mistaken for a burglar by Pistorius did not come from the police… Capacity Relations, a talent management firm, earlier named model Steenkamp as the victim of the shooting.

The dailytelegraph.com.au story shits all over both smh.com.au stories and I recommend reading it. It’s less sensational and doesn’t focus on Steenkamp’s appearance. It’s by “staff writers” who have brought together copy from several sources, and whoever did it, well done.

(As an aside, here’s something that I just can’t comprehend: according to saynotoviolence.org, in South Africa “a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner”. Holy fucking crap.)

The version on the ABC website (from Reuters and AFP copy) starts well, but in the end has more words about how it might affect Pistorius’ sponsorship deals than it does about anything else. And, oddly, this bit:

Steenkamp, a model and regular on the South African party circuit, was reported to have been dating Pistorius for a year, and there had been little to suggest their relationship was in trouble.

Um, does that mean that if their relationship had been in trouble then the crime would make sense?

Journalists really need to think about the words they use. Because when I look at the coverage of this story on the websites of the ABC and a supposedly intelligent broadsheet, the impression I get is that journalists believe Reeva Steenkamp’s appearance/job is good for getting clicks, but it doesn’t matter that she was killed because she was just a model. If that’s really the way that Australia’s online journalists think about women – and keep in mind that most online journos are under 40 and tertiary educated – then it’s not just the crusty old guys in the industry who are the problem.

Update 16 Feb: Ok, since I’m criticising the SMH for their coverage, this is today’s story, these are the actual first five sentences of Pistorius breaks down at court appearance:

A tearful Oscar Pistorius has been remanded in custody after being formally charged with the murder of his girlfriend.

He was wearing a dark suit, tie and blue shirt when he appeared in the Pretoria magistrates court on Friday.

He broke down in the dock as magistrate Desmond Nair formally charged him with the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, 29.

A sobbing Oscar Pistorius has been formerly charged with the Valentine’s Day murder of his model girlfriend.

The 26-year-old Paralympian gold medallist wept on Friday as Pretoria magistrate Desmond Nair announced a single charge of killing blonde covergirl Reeva Steenkamp.

I hope no one actually read that before it was published, because if they did they should get their arse kicked. (The story is dated yesterday, so it’s been online for at least 12 hours like this.)

The everyday shit they call journalism

There’s a story in the Sydney Morning Herald today that’s a great example of how meaningless political journalism has become. It’s not about a manufactured scandal, or a gaffe, or something that happened decades ago, but is just the everyday political journalism that is, frankly, rubbish.

I don’t think it’s because political journalists are stupid. It’s more that they write for each other and not for the public, and they don’t ever stop to think about what they are actually writing. When I was a journalist, I used to write in journalese, just like every other journalist. Every now and then, the news editor made half-arsed murmurs about not using journalese – like Person A “slammed” Person B, or “Thailand’s restive south” (go on, google that and see the 497,000 results for a phrase that no one but journalists use) – but journalese was only ever seen as particular words, and not the sentences that make up a story.

So, Rudd backers turn on PM for celebrity choice, by Mark Kenny and Jonathan Swan (interestingly, if you look at the URL, the “news story” is filed in opinion…):

The move to parachute the Olympian Nova Peris into Parliament has re-ignited discussion about Julia Gillard’s political judgment and the value of so-called “celebrity” candidates.

Now, the article contains no discussion whatsoever about the “value of so-called “celebrity” candidates”. None. Not a single sentence. The online version includes photos of Cheryl Kernot, Maxine McKew, and John Alexander, without any explanation of why these photos are there. Which is pretty suckful when you consider that the online version is almost permanent and will be the information that other journalists use when they write their stories. The paper version runs a pretty lazy story on the side of the main one, also by Mark Kenny, using these three people as evidence that celebrity candidates don’t work. Kernot shouldn’t be in that list. She was a senator for the Democrats from 1990-1997, then for Labor from 1998-2001. That hardly makes her a celebrity candidate. After all, no one says Billy Hughes was a celebrity candidate and he changed parties five times while in federal parliament, including while he was Prime Minister.

So that leaves McKew (a former ABC journo) and Alexander (a former tennis player). McKew won Bennelong from John Howard in 2007. Alexander won Bennelong from McKew in 2010. I hardly think Kenny’s case is made by one seat. Particularly when you consider Peter Garrett, Andrew Wilkie, Malcolm Turnbull, cyclist Hubert Opperman and cricketer/hockey player Ric Charlesworth all had high profiles before getting into politics and lasted quite a while. (And these are just the recent ones that I’ve found with a quick search. Remember the days when journalists did basic research?)

Anyway, moving along to the bit about how the move has “re-ignited discussion about Julia Gillard’s political judgement”.

But Labor figures loyal to the former prime minister Kevin Rudd rounded on Ms Gillard on Wednesday, calling the drafting of Ms Peris to replace a sitting Labor senator for the Northern Territory “unprecedented”.

Who are these Labor figures? Oh, look, there’s just one:

“Because we are in an election year, most MPs will bite their lips, but people are furious,” said the MP, who wished to remain anonymous.

One. Unnamed. MP.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who didn’t have the guts to put his/her name to his/her words.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who wanted to undermine the PM and asked the journalists to leave out his/her name and they agreed.

One. Unnamed. MP. Who is a bit shitty about something and is using docile, unquestioning journalists to have a bit of a whinge. Can Mark Kenny and Jonathan Swan seriously not see how they are being used? Are they that blind? But I guess “One MP has a bit of a whinge about something” isn’t as exciting as OH MY GOD WE HAVE TO KEEP WRITING ABOUT RUDD IN CASE THE PARTY DUMPS GILLARD AND RETURNS TO RUDD EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO INDICATION THAT ANYONE WANTS THAT BUT MY GOD WE AREN’T GOING TO MISS IT AGAIN.

But wait, there’s more.

In an article about Nova Peris being endorsed as a Labor candidate there is no mention of her suitability. Except this bit:

“Unfortunately Nova doesn’t realise she’s being used by Julia Gillard,” said Michael Anderson, a former leader of the Australian Black Power movement and a founder of the Aboriginal tent embassy.

“Ms Peris-Kneebone is only being used as a public relations exercise for Labor. She has not been involved in major political processes, rallies or otherwise. She has been missing in political action all the time.”

Which is wrong. The journalists should have indicated that Anderson was wrong, not only for using her old name (she hasn’t been Peris-Kneebone in over a decade), but for having no fucking idea what he is talking about. Nova Peris was awarded the Order of Australia, she was a treaty ambassador for ATSIC, she created the Peris Enterprises charity to promote health and education for Indigenous children, then there’s the Nova Peris Girls Academy. And she was an international ambassador for the World Health Organisation (for youth suicide prevention), and a national ambassador for Reconciliation Australia, and a delegate to the National Constitution Convention, and a national patron for Beyond Blue. And here’s a list of 17 things she’s been involved in that make her one of the best candidates for political office that I’ve seen in a long time.

I found this information in less than one minute. Yet Kenny and Swan didn’t even make a basic effort to point out that Anderson is completely wrong. They published his ignorance/lie, playing in to the narrative of Nova Peris being an unskilled celebrity candidate who will no doubt crash and burn and it will be ALL JULIA GILLARD’S FAULT.

I started this post by saying Kenny and Swan’s story is a pretty bad example of political journalism. But now that I’ve dissected it, and seen how lazy and how wrong the story is, I’ve changed my mind. It’s fucking appalling journalism and they should be ashamed of themselves.

Old memes as new news

Thank goodness we have News Ltd websites to tell us that slut shaming is a new trend perpetuated by girls on the internet. Because without their investigative journalists, how would we know about a meme that was popular in July 2012?

The story is MEME GIRLS: The sorry trend of ‘s— shaming’. That’s slut shaming not – as I first thought – shit shaming, which is something else altogether. “Oh honey, you really need to eat more fibre”.

News.com.au story on six-month-old meme

Slut shaming is a hot new trend, as reported by News.com.au

THERE’S some serious girl-on-girl crime happening all over the internet.

Women are posting memes ridiculing their peers for the way they dress and the make-up they wear.

The story – all five sentences of it – is one of the worst examples of journalism that I’ve seen in a long time. Sure, everyone’s still in holiday mode, but this story is appallingly lazy.

Firstly, it’s a story about a new trend on the internet that doesn’t contain a single link to evidence of this trend. (It doesn’t contain any links at all.)

Secondly, one of the images used as evidence of girls slut shaming each other is a captioned photo of a young women telling “citizens” to wear deodorant. Um…

Thirdly, only one of the photos has a credit (a vague “tumblr”), which is incredibly poor form.

And finally, if the journalist had done a basic search (you know, used a second source) they’d find Know Your Meme, which reveals that this meme had its day in the middle of last year – which is decades in meme time – and that the parodies were bigger than the original.

If you’re going to write about a six-month-old meme, then at least write something more intelligent/useful than just five sentences of “oooh, sluts! Sluts! I get to write SLUTS in my news story!”.

As for “happening all over the internet”? The vast majority of slut shaming and abuse that happens on the internet is perpetuated by men against women. But never let the truth get in the way of yet another story about women being mean to other women.

In today’s news, more trivial shit

This is the current main image on smh.com.au (2.45pm):

Smh.com.au Sarkozy's shoes

Shoes are An Important Story, dontchaknow.

Yes, an official meeting between Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande –
Sarkozy’s Cuban heels let him see Hollande eye to eye – and the journo writes about his shoes. And gets it wrong – those are not Cuban heels. And then the online editor at smh.com.au decides it’s important enough to be the main image.

You can’t make this shit up.

And over at News.com.au, this is the story the online editor believes is the most important of the afternoon:

News.com.au and the leak

It’s not even a popular tv show.

A tv show that often isn’t in the top 10 most watched of the week is considered more important than the news that the Electoral Commission has cleared Craig Thomson of electoral fraud. That’s right, the result of a show that most people don’t watch is more important than one of the biggest stories of the year. Or perhaps it’s that a positive result for Thomson ruins News Ltd’s anti-Government agenda. (Psst journalists, starting all your news stories with “Tony Abbott says” is not holding the Government to account. It’s letting the Opposition control your news agenda, and the result is you’re not holding anyone in power to account. Also, consider that Baym wrote this in 2005:

“Mainstream journalism’s reliance on predictable conventions can render it susceptible to manipulation by the professional speech writers and media handlers who seed public information with pre-scripted soundbites and spin,” (2005, p. 265).

Politicians know that you’ll lead your story with the dumb quip, and if someone asks any questions of substance, no one will report the answer. They also know that no journalists will fact check their claims, particularly those about the economy. Journalists, you are being used. But I digress.)

News.com.au is also running a BIG story about a finance reporter adjusting her skirt for a split second – stop the fucking presses, right? – and two free plugs for upcoming films.

I’m not suggesting that online news should be worthy and serious all the time. But it’s pretty hard to argue that it’s worthy and serious even some of the time.

One of the things I’m looking at in my doctorate is how young people experience the news. The research indicates that they reject mainstream news because it’s trivial and sensational (eg, McNair, 2000; Buckingham 2000; Raeymakers 2003; Mindich, 2005; Costera Meijer 2007… you get the picture. I won’t post all the refs below – I’ll put them in the comments if anyone wants them). It used to be the case that young people developed an interest in news when they “grew up”, but this is no longer so certain.

I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth mentioning again: In the 2004 US presidential election, 21 per cent of 18-34-year-olds got their news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live – just behind the 23 per cent who got their political information from network news (Feldman, 2007). But, those who watched the comedy shows knew more about election issues than those who got their news from the MSM (National Annenberg Election Survey). If I was still a journalist, I’d be pretty fucking nervous about that.

Baym, G (2005), ‘The Daily Show: Discursive Integration and the Reinvention of Political Journalism’, Political Communication, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 259-276.

Costera Meijer, I (2007), ‘The paradox of popularity: How young people experience the news’, Journalism Studies, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 96-116.

Feldman, L (2007), ‘The news about comedy: Young audiences, The Daily Show, and evolving notions of journalism’, Journalism, vol. 8, pp. 406-427.

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.