Posts Tagged 'Churnalism'

Another example of lazy journalism failing the public – Burwood School

What is the point of journalists?  Increasingly in this country we see reporters publishing stories they have not written, and to which they add virtually nothing.

A story doing the rounds today is a glaring example of this churnalism.  Picked up from the newswires by the BBC, national papers and a raft of regional titles, is the story of a 10-year-old boy who has been arrested for allegedly attacking two of his female teachers at his school in Orpington.  One has facial injuries, but the other has a broken leg and dislocated kneecap.

All the reports and headlines are virtually identical, as you can see from the Press Association (the likely origin of the story), the BBC, the Independent, in The Sun, the Metro and more besides.

But all of these outlets miss the opportunity to put the story into all-important context.  For while they content themselves to repeat a police spokesman’s words saying that police attended a school in Avalon Road, Orpington, and detailing the injuries sustained, none of them name the school and therefore help the audience to understand more about what happened.

The only school on Avalon Road is Burwood School, which describes itself thus:

So the incident has not taken place in a run of the mill mainstream school, but in a boys only establishment made up of around 44 youngsters with various problems who are not suitable to be in maintstream education.  Not only that, but an establishment placed into special measures by Ofsted for two years in 2007 and was subsequently forced to reduce the designated age range of its pupils so it could no longer accept youngsters aged between 7-10-years-old.

While this information does not detract from the seriousness of the incident and the apparent extreme violence meted out by a mere 10-year-old, it is clear the school runs a higher risk of violent incidents taking place due to the troubled nature of its pupils.  Although it came out of special measures in 2009, the 2011 Ofsted inspection‘s key findings clearly show standards at the school have a lot of improvement to make:

The Ofsted report goes on to mention that concerns have been raised by a minority of parents and carers about safety in the school, something which appears to have been dismissed by the inspectors who state:

‘Burwood is a safe school’

and go on to add that:

‘students are unanimous in confirming that they feel safe in school’

The students? Since when does their opinion trump that of responsible parents and carers?  It is interesting therefore that this information is shared in the report given Ofsted confirmed in their introduction that their inspection was somewhat devalued (my description) by the fact that:

There were limited opportunities for lesson observations because Year 11 students were out of school on study leave throughout the inspection, and two of the five remaining classes went on an educational visit for the whole of the second day.

Given the incident that has taken place, that assessment finding should surely come in for substantial scrutiny – something any half decent media would be focusing attention on.  As should the feeling running through the report that pupils determine too much of what goes on in the school at the expense of formally planned and disciplined educational activity.  There are clear issues here that are of public interest, but will likely go unexplored because the media has failed to provide all the information.  The media is leaving the public in possession of only part of the story,  resulting in a very misleading impression of the circumstances.

The question is, why did none of the journalists who published this story take a few minutes to uncover and report these important details before making the story live?

We already know the answer.  This is yet another example of our media being lazy, derivative and unfit for purpose , therefore ill-serving the public audience.  No doubt it will fall to blogs to tell the story the media is incapable or unwilling to research and publish, and serve the public interest.

The BBC is by far and away the worst offender

When it comes to cutting and pasting press releases from the Environment Agency to use as ‘news’ pieces, the BBC is in a class of its own.

Katabasis, the blogger who contributed to the exposure of the Met Office winter 2010 forecast scandal, has undertaken a labour of love to uncover the extent of ‘churnalism’ exhibited by our lavishly funded public service broadcaster and its legion of highly trained churnalists journalists when it comes to environment and climate change stories.

Reading the whole piece on the Katabasis blog is absolutely recommended!

Guardian and Independent getting their money’s worth

Although other blogs have used it, today is the first time AM has tried out the Churnalism website to analyse how much of a press release has been lifted and regurgitated as a news story by journalists churnalists in the media.

Our test concerns a story suggesting plantlife and animals were being forced towards the Earth’s poles by global warming.  The research cited was conducted by the University of York and reported in the journal Science. As the research was performed by the University, AM looked for the press release issued by York on the subject, then used the Churnalism website to carry out the comparison with newspapers that reported the story.

The findings below are unsurprising, as the usual suspects from the Guardian and Independent unquestioningly cut and paste up to 43% of the press release into their write up. The top three offenders are shown below:

Coming out of the analysis rather well this time was Little Lou of the Barclay Brother Beano, who only pasted 33% of the press release into her ‘story’.   As for the others, the editors of those rags could be excused for replacing their incredibly expensive hacks with trained chimps for all the value they are adding.  The chimps would be cheaper and most likely more open minded with it.

As for the main crux of the story, a careful read of the York press release shows us this story sits on shakier foundations than a Japanse skyscraper.  The key word is emphasised in the paragraph below:

Analysing data for over 2000 responses by animal and plant species, the research team estimated that, on average, species have moved to higher elevations at 12.2 metres per decade and, more dramatically, to higher latitudes at 17.6 kilometres per decade.

Nothing like a good bit of hype to get some attention and some more research grant money, is there?

Update: As for the scientific merits or otherwise of the University of York research, Donna Laframboise offers some essential and not too flattering background about the project leader of the team Chris Thomas – which naturally none of the media outlets share with their readers and viewers.

But then, their story would have less impact if they pointed out Thomas’ last effort to push a similar claim was comprehensively torn apart and debunked by peer review scientists.  Far better to keep the readers and viewers in ignorance in case they decide the story is just more ludicrous hype.  This again demonstrates how ill served we are by our biased and agenda driven media.

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