Sloppy Headlines and other journalistic flaws

Christine Gorman on Health Media Watch blog offers some constructive criticism about media and health writing.

I’ve written a fair share of criticism about the media in this blog. I think the issue of sloppiness–my own first and others secondarily–ought to be challenged. Especially in our media environment where messages travel around the world in seconds and have immediate influence.

On the Health Media Blog, Christine Gorman consistently writes about journalistic sloppiness and points out how it affects us. Sometimes it’s not harmless. And sometimes it doesn’t pass unnoticed and easily forgotten. In this post she points out how a sloppy headline about Parkinsons is misleading. It could convey hope to persons affected by the condition while the cited study is limited. It’s not a trial, nor even a safety study about the use of medication. The headline is misleading.

In a different medium, I’ve noticed a local television station’s “tease” about an upcoming segment employs a similar tactic. Sometimes they say a common household item can cause great harm or they hint, for example, that drinking coffee can prevent some the effects of some menacing disease. While there is a kernal of truth in the story, it is much less significant than the tease implies. But the point doesn’t seem to be to give us important content. The story can’t be told adequately in this brief way. Sometimes I wonder why they bothert. It’s the electronic equivalent to the print headline.

In a second post on why scientists dislike journalists Gorman makes the pertinent observation that information is not the same thing as knowledge, and opinion, the saltier the better in the post-information age, demonstrates that not all content is information.

It’s almost hackneyed to write that the paradigm is changing. But it’s true. And as change overtakes, television news formats are tinkered with and adjusted to retain viewers. From the outside, it appears editors and managers are casting about trying to find a formula that works in a highly competitive envionment. I suppose this is part of the cause for the decline in quality local television news.

In this context, Gorman’s observations are helpful. She puts such practices in context and reminds those us who write content that others rely upon that trust is easy to lose and difficult to gain.

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