I do, of course, cheat at journalism

Something BiG says:

“I think you do more research for one throwaway column than the average “journalist” does for above the fold on the front page.”

And, well, I cheat. I write about things that I already know about. Or am interested in at least, have something to say about.

In one sense this is just what we’d like all to be doing. In another it’s rather different. The newspaper, the journalists on it, have to pick up the stories that are there and say something about them. That requires lots of looking around in order to have something to say. Even, to find out what is going on.

My cheat is to look around, see something I’d like to say something about, then do a piece. That is a fundamentally different approach. I’m specifically choosing the things I’ve already got an approach to, that largely guided by my already knowing something to a lot about it and having references to it. Journalism is, in its essence, the other way around. Here is something that has to be written about now, what in buggery is it?

There are rare occasions when I’m asked for a piece on something where I don’t already have a view. I flail around at such points just like everyone else.

30 thoughts on “I do, of course, cheat at journalism”

  1. The Meissen Bison

    Too often the newspaper, the journalists on it, have to pick up a press release the stories that are there and regurgitate it in the house style say something about them.

  2. Bloke in Germany

    Which means you did the research in the past. Still did more of it.

    Didn’t you find that the Graun’s or someone’s science “correspondent” had an arts background, no STEM degree at all? They don’t even care to find people who have some expertise in their declared speciality. And even if they do, they train them to turn the bullshit detector (which is, more than anything, what distinguishes a scientist from a not scientist) off.

  3. Or just be given a PR piece ready-written to support whatever political/corporate interest you are told to.

    Also this is a key reason why I no longer bother with journalists and their output. Plenty of channels to get minute by minute updates on any world event outside the newspapers. For actual analysis I’d turn to people with knowledge. Not sure why it’s worth my time reading half-formed hastily written ideas from know-nothings.

  4. Journalism is, in its essence, the other way around. Here is something that has to be written about now, what in buggery is it?

    It’s not even that. Most of the time it’s just filler: simply completing the word-count to fill all those empty spaces between the adverts. And as the man said, churnalism. Lots and lots of churnalism. Uncritical and unexamined regurgitation of press releases touting studies of no empirical value whatsoever.

  5. The Meissen Bison

    Großer – it’s not so much the absence of a STEM degree but an absence of curiosity and critical thought that is the problem with science correspondents.

    One might reasonably argue that at the present time politicians without a STEM background have made dreadful decisions by implementing uncritically the draconian but misguided policies of STEMmers.

    Lockdown effects people in different ways. For my part, without a haircut since goodness knows when, I now look like a mad professor and I don’t dare go out for fear of being mistakenly taken for an epidemiologist and being pelted with stones.

  6. @Bloke in Germany – June 9, 2020 at 7:51 am

    Didn’t you find that the Graun’s or someone’s science “correspondent” had an arts background, no STEM degree at all?

    Offhand, I can’t think of any MSM “science correspondent” who has a decent degree in hard science. Certainly not the BBC.

    …they train them to turn the bullshit detector (which is, more than anything, what distinguishes a scientist from a not scientist) off.

    Or, in the case of the BBC, fire them, as it did in the case of its last, scientifically-qualified correspondent, Dr David Whitehouse, because he didn’t subscribe to the house line on “climate change”.

  7. Bloke in Germany

    TMB, yes, you’re right to a large extent, but children can have boundless curiosity, even be capable of critical thought, but are not immune to magical thinking. Neither is anyone who isn’t at least rudimentarily aware of stuff like the conservation of matter and energy, the fact that everything is a chemical, a bit of Newtonian mechanics, a little Mendelian genetics, can do basic algebra without thinking too hard, has experienced a little statistical trickery like relative comparisons of small absolute numbers, results given to excessive precision, and can generally tell if something appears to be three or more orders of magnitude away from plausibility.

    General knowledge shared by the overwhelming majority of posters here, but not, it seems, by the meejah establishment outside a handful of specialists in the financial press.

  8. “In one sense this is just what we’d like all to be doing. In another it’s rather different. The newspaper, the journalists on it, have to pick up the stories that are there and say something about them. That requires lots of looking around in order to have something to say. Even, to find out what is going on.”

    This is why most of them are toast. Because you’re picking up a story about economics, Portugal or scandium. A computer security story? Bruce Scheier is writing about it.

    Which is harder? Learning to write well, or learning about rare metals? When you read a story, which is more valuable? The knowledge or the prose? It seems to me that the thing that journalists were good for was producing copy to a space, and quickly. Neither of these things really matter with the internet. An article can be as long or short as you like. And if it isn’t there for a certain time, it doesn’t matter that much.

  9. Journalists are in a sense like experts. It would be anathema to admit doubt. Thus journalists spout bollocks as if they were experts. It is not done to say you don’t know in a scientific context.
    Real scientists, by which I mean those of any qualifications but with a scientific bent, know that admitting you don’t know is the beginning of knowledge.

    (I don’t have a STEM degree, or any other kind. I had two careers in different tech jobs. I can do sums in my head too.)

  10. It’s even worse than you think, newsrooms are using all sorts of tools now to generate garbage semi-automatically!

    https://medium.com/bbc-news-labs/stories-by-numbers-how-bbc-news-is-experimenting-with-automated-journalism-3d8595a88852

    https://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/arria-natural-language-generation-technology-expands-bbc-s-coverage-of-uk-elections-865255548.html

    It wouldn’t surprise me if todays modern ‘journalists’ were incapable of correct grammar and spelling without the aid of modern word processors.

  11. “the bullshit detector (which is, more than anything, what distinguishes a scientist from a not scientist) off.”

    Wrong tense, alas. Or the right tense and an obsolete meaning of “scientist”.

  12. So Much For Subtlety

    Just thought I would mention the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect:

    According to Crichton, the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows: “You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

    “In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

    The number one criteria for newspaper people these days seems to be political correctness. Which is a problem in some sciences like biology because, for instance, there are only so many ways you can deny that race exists and yet pretend it does not.

  13. So Much For Subtlety

    BlokeInBrum June 9, 2020 at 9:45 am – “It’s even worse than you think, newsrooms are using all sorts of tools now to generate garbage semi-automatically!”

    Apparently it is a scandal that a primitive AI news story writing bot confused the photo of some coloured (in the neutral but Saffa sense of mixed race) bint for some other coloured bint in the same popular beat combo.

    Little Minx I thought. Which surprised me as I thought all the outrage in the world involving said group revolved around the fact that another one (or perhaps one of the two above) is rather plump around the posterior and the 14 year old girls who seem to make up their fan base are not shy of advising her to lose some weight.

  14. “The number one criteria for newspaper people these days seems to be political correctness”

    No SMFS.

    Their number one concern is the active promotion of Marxist evil and attempted takeover. Merely being PC is far too passive for what the cunts are up to.

    Even small local rags are now staffed with Uni-trained Marxist snot-nosed trash.

  15. “Offhand, I can’t think of any MSM “science correspondent” who has a decent degree in hard science. Certainly not the BBC.”

    Would it necessarily be a good thing if they did? If they could actually do science, wouldn’t they be holding down a decently paid secure job where they did science? Surely we’ve learned by now that possession of a university degree tells you nothing about the competence, knowledge or the abilities of the holder. Quite the contrary. You’re more likely to be confronted with someone who thinks they know more than they do & believes they have abilities they don’t possess.

  16. Let’s be honest about something. In this day & age the label “journalist” indicates one of:
    1) Good family or social connections.
    2) Possession of a substantial independent income
    or
    3)Failure at anything else

  17. “As several versions of my bio – autobio even – already proclaim, I am 3).”

    “Used to” – on this site that is, maybe it was on the “About” page if I remember correctly, I can’t see it now?

  18. SMFS: “Which is a problem in some sciences like biology because, for instance, there are only so many ways you can deny that race exists and yet pretend it does not.”

    Not in biology, given that us critter-botherers rarely if ever apply the term “race” to anything, because it’s a term only applied to H.Sap.sap. and as such has no value in species classification. Or any other field in biology dealing with species distribution and diversity. Much descriptive jargon that’s much more specific, but “race” is not a valid descriptor in the field.

    The term is quite often used in sciences that borrow from biology, like medicine and anthropology, which tends to confuse people.

    Besides, to a biologist humans are quite un-interesting. Like rats and pigs, humans are bog-standard opportunistic generalists who don’t do anything interesting. At cellular level it’s even really hard to tell the difference, to the point where the medical branch can use certain pig parts as spare parts….
    Even when it comes to intelligence and self-awareness humans aren’t unique, we simply have lots of it. And figuring out what causes intelligence and self-awareness requires studying the progession in anything but humans.

    “Race” and “Gender” in their current use are SJW territory, not part of any actual science.

  19. Speaking of which, young Thomas, have you had a butcher’s at the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill?

    It’s a scream, and will pass any day now.

    Broadly speaking, it looks like the legislature’s attempt to pass an Act which will make all of the economic collapse vanish.

    I particularly like the retrospective lifting of the ban on wrongful trading (announced on 28th March, effective soon). And I think there is something in there about suppliers being required to supply, even when their supplyee is restructuring.

    Seriously, have a go at this one.

  20. “As several versions of my bio – autobio even – already proclaim, I am 3).”

    You may regard yourself as a journalist, Tim. But I’m not sure so many people who enjoy your writing do. You’re certainly not a reporter. There are, these days, quite a lot of people around who share profound & interesting observations. But they’re mostly doing it from experience. So one tends to label them by what their field of knowledge is. So for me you’re an economist. Not in the purely money sense but in the wider. The study of how people interact. And you seem to have observed people interacting & learned something from it.
    “Journalists” don’t seem to learn anything from observing people interacting. Everything has to fit into some narrative they’re pushing. And there seem to be very few reporters. Unless you count reporting things that haven’t happened whilst ignoring things that most definitely have.

  21. The Guardian used to have Ben Goldacre, until he went on sabattical. At some point several years later I realised the only reason I’d still been putting up with the rubbish and buying the Saturday Guardian was waiting for him to come back, and it was obvious he was never coming back.

    Had a quick look at his website. Odd…. nothing since 2017.

  22. @Baron Jackfield

    Ah, the “impartial” BBC

    Dr David Whitehouse

    Stephen Glover: The BBC‘s comic bias is proof it has given up on impartiality
    “There are many other examples of the Beeb minimising violence, and of its determination to show that all protesters mean well. For example, the BBC News Twitter feed contended that ‘a police horse has bolted at protesters at an anti-racism rally in London’. Only because the poor beast was terrified by flares and missiles, and its police rider had been thrown off.

    Even more disgraceful was the doctoring of a photograph by the BBC to remove the image of a masked man who was threatening a line of police with a large piece of wood during Saturday’s protests in Whitehall.

    A picture on the BBC London website showed a line of police officers holding back a surging crowd without the intimidating man, alongside the caption: ‘The disturbances took place outside of Downing Street after a largely peaceful protest.’ After complaints by social media users, Auntie was obliged to restore the man brandishing the wood”

  23. Unfortunately Ben Goldacre, despite his earlier good efforts highlighting bad science, then went on to credulously swallow the whole catastrophic anthropogenic global warming scam, apparently on the simple yet spurious grounds that it’s public science and therefore to be taken at face value. He’d clearly never delved into it in the slightest.

  24. @bloke in spain – June 9, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    (Me) “Offhand, I can’t think of any MSM “science correspondent” who has a decent degree in hard science. Certainly not the BBC.”(/Me)

    Would it necessarily be a good thing if they did?

    At least they’d have knowledge of the basis of science, scientific method, etc., better they have some knowledge rather than none. At least, one hopes that the holder of a STEM degree would, not all degrees are “Grievance Studies” standard. Just having “scientific” A-Levels would give the holder a far deeper understanding of “science” than someone who had gone the “non-science” route through their education. Anecdotally, I went from school to a well-regarded (in those days anyway) university where I read Physics. A few years later I decided upon a career-change and read Law as a “mature student” at another Russell Group uni. The Admissions Tutor mentioned to me that I was the only undergrad that year who had a “scientific background” and I later came to recognise the profound ignorance of science and engineering shown by my colleagues… Don’t get me wrong, they were bright, well-educated kids (this was the mid 1970s) but their education had been in a totally different direction. It struck me as a bit odd that I, as a “scientist” was expected to be able to write coherent english, know a bit of history, have a nodding-acquaintance with a foreign language etc., whereas the “art” and “classics” mob wouldn’t recognise a quadratic equation even if it bit them in the leg.

    If they could actually do science, wouldn’t they be holding down a decently paid secure job where they did science?

    From experience, “scientitsts” are not terribly well paid. I’d guess that a BBC or MSM “correspondent” earns considerably more, and probably for a lot less work.

    Surely we’ve learned by now that possession of a university degree tells you nothing about the competence, knowledge or the abilities of the holder.

    Depends on the subject… I’d venture to suggest that a degree in a science subject would indicate that the holder had a better knowledge of general-science, maths, statistics, etc. than the holder of a degree in English or Media Studies (or PPE!!).

    Quite the contrary. You’re more likely to be confronted with someone who thinks they know more than they do & believes they have abilities they don’t possess.

    Only if they’re “Oxbridge”… 🙂

  25. “From experience, “scientitsts” are not terribly well paid. I’d guess that a BBC or MSM “correspondent” earns considerably more, and probably for a lot less work.”

    I refer you to my 3 options for journalists mentioned above. Positions at the BBC are hereditary, aren’t they. And one notices the regularity the first names the privately educated middle classes were labelling their offspring, a couple of decades & a bit back, turn up above newspaper articles. But the scarcities of Wayne & Tracy

  26. Just a GCSE in a STEM subject ought to be enough to prevent the more egregious journalistic errors one encounters every day (even in the ‘better’ newspapers), such as an inability to distinguish between power and energy.

  27. “Offhand, I can’t think of any MSM “science correspondent” who has a decent degree in hard science. Certainly not the BBC.”

    That’s inspired me to do a bit of googling.

    The only two BBC science correspondents I pay attention to:

    Pallab Ghosh ” studied physics at Imperial College, London between 1980 and 1983″.

    David Shukman “attended the Dragon School and Eton College, then read Geography at Durham University gaining a BA. He graduated with an upper second in 1980”.

    And then
    Ben Goldacre “studied medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he obtained a first-class Bachelor of Arts honours degree during his preclinical studies in 1995 in Physiological Sciences.
    (…)
    Goldacre was a visiting researcher in cognitive neuroscience at the University of Milan, working on fMRI brain scans of language and executive function. Following his studies at the Universities of Oxford and Milan, Goldacre studied clinical medicine at UCL Medical School, qualifying as a medical doctor in 2000 with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB, BS) degree. He also received a Master of Arts degree in philosophy from King’s College London in 1997. (…)
    As of March 2015, he is a senior clinical research fellow at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, part of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.”

  28. It’s the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based medicine that has been rubbishing some of the numbers output from the epidemiological ‘models’ of Neil Ferguson at Imperial.

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