Tag Archives: accuracy

Subbing tip #6: flak or flack?

When someone comes under attack for something or other, many journalists pull out the old anti-aircraft metaphor to describe it. But here, sadly, their ignorance starts to show.

“Flak” comes from a German acronym for anti aircraft fire – Fl(ieger)a(bwehr)k(anone).

A “flack” is a slightly derogatory North American term for a publicity agent.

So ditch that “c” folks – you don’t need it. Unless you are under attack by someone in PR. Then it might work…


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Facebook, obsession, murder

Facebook_2You have to love newspapers’ obsession with social media. Whether it’s the Twittering of Stephen Fry et al or the latest security breach involving Facebook, the news media are all over it – irrespective of whether their readers know the difference between a Tweet and a twat. 

This latest example from the Metro pushes a whole lot of buttons – murder, obsession, jealousy… and social media. Fantastic. But, of course, when you actually read the story, it kind of falls apart.

So – the paper pitches the idea that a Hayley Jones’s lover, Brian Lewis, stabbed and strangled her (or strangled and stabbed, depending on where you are in the story) because she “changed her status from ‘married’ to ‘single'” on Facebook, causing him to fly into a jealous rage. Oh the dangers of social media!

Uh, yeah. 

Actually, what happened was that she told him the relationship was over.

Aha, you cry, but at the same time she changed her status on Facebook to single. That must have hurt.

Yes. But although the couple did apparently argue about how long Jones was spending online, the most revealing statement in the story comes from prosecuting barrister Mark Evans. 

In court he said:

She was quite secretive about [her Facebook use], preventing Lewis from using the site and turning the computer off. It is quite clear that this rankled with him.

So. Let’s get this straight. She stopped him from using the site. That would be the site on which she changed her status. The news of which is supposed to have sent him into a murderous rage.

OK, so he might have seen the status update. But, you know, it’s not convincingly argued that he did, let alone that this is what lay behind the crime.

For God’s sake – there’s enough here to make a front page splash without twisting the story into something it’s not (or at least doesn’t seem to be).

The Metro could have made hay about Jones’s alleged internet obsession. And certainly there’s a story here about the fact that they had money worries after Lewis lost his job, and that he may have had a problem with Jones starting work herself. 

But a murder over mundane and concrete issues such as financial tension and a couple’s probable communication breakdown just isn’t as exciting to today’s journalism as a murder over someone’s Facebook status. 

Which this actually isn’t. A lesson that hardly any journalists seem to have learned: correlation is not causality.

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Accuracy level of Guardian now a major concern for readers

My first reaction on seeing this Guardian media headline –  “Literacy level of recruits now a major concern for media, report finds” – was: I know – I’ve said it myself often enough.

But then I read the story. The story says absolutely nothing about general literacy. 

It makes the following points:

  • The industry needs more skilled advertising and media sales staff
  • Freelancers need to be up to date on technology and multimedia
  • Games and other creative industries are reducing the talent pool for journalism
  • Publishing is a highly qualified industry (not highly skilled, notice), with 45% of workers having a degree

Yet it deals with all this under an opening paragraph saying this:

The literacy level of young recruits at newspapers and magazines is becoming a major concern, a training watchdog has warned.

No – it simply hasn’t warned us of this. Not according to this story, anyway. Where’s the evidence? Where’s the reference from the report? Where’s the quote from Skillset?

In fact, the only halfway relevant comment the story offers from the Skillset report is this: 

…traditional skills such as good writing, editing and interviewing were “becoming even more important so that customers are prepared to pay for high quality content”.

Which may or may not be true – there’s actually no clear cut evidence that “customers are prepared to pay for high quality content”, or pay for content at all.

Even if it is true, this comment doesn’t touch on literacy per se – this is talking about communication skills and style, which is a different, if related, thing.

What’s worse, this isn’t just sloppy, sloppy writing – it’s sloppy sub-editing too. Any sub worth their salt would have picked up on this and certainly given it a more accurate headline…


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Why newspapers still need sub-editors #3

Spotted in today’s Metro – a travel piece on what looks like a delightful part of Sardinia. But I think the “gut-busting” lunch enjoyed by the writer has affected her English.

…courses of muscles and clams, fat prawns and melt-in-the-mouth hoops of calamari…

And I thought the Metro was supposed to be a subs’ paper…

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Health scares and the media…

This_Life…in a nutshell. 

This goes some way to explaining why I was reading headlines like this about swine flu a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m reading headlines like this about swine flu medication…

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Yahoo: the perils of economic statistics

Not sure what state the UK economy is in? Better not read the papers and newswires today, then – you’ll only get more confused.

Today saw the release of the UK’s second quarter GDP statistics. Hmm. How bad were they?

“Bad”, says Yahoo Finance, which takes its content from  news service AFP.

British economy sees record contraction

That kind of bad. 

Oh, but wait. Does that mean the second quarter GDP figures saw a record fall?

Well, the Yahoo story certainly seems to think so:

Britain’s economy shrank in the second quarter at its fastest yearly pace since records began in 1955, as the worst recession since the early 1980s tightened its grip.

Ooh. Scary.

But, hang on a moment. What does that actually mean?

How can a quarterly figure shrink at a yearly pace? That actually doesn’t make sense.

And when you look at the story more closely, it actually reveals that the decline in GDP for Q2 was 0.8% – much less than the whopping 2.4% fall we saw in the first quarter (though more than the forecasters’ prediction of 0.3%. But then, what do they know). 

It turns out that GDP had shrunk by 5.6% in the three months to the end of June, compared to the same period last year.

But actually, most of that fall happened at the end of last year, and then the gruesome first quarter of this year. The GDP statistics just released today actually show that the worst might be over for the recession. 

Things are still pretty grim. But this is like the messy emergency landing in a swamp, rather than the terrifying plunge from the sky that we had earlier in the year. And we’ll probably be in the swamp for a while, which sucks. 

UK_GDP_1955-2009This graphic from the Guardian shows that things are better this quarter than last. Though don’t be fooled into thinking the uptick on the graph means the economy has started growing again. That’s another pitfall of statistical representation. 

But it does clearly show that the worst news happened three months ago. 

What does this mean? 

Pretty much that statistics can be pressed into service for whatever editorial angle you like. In this case the angle is: we’re all doomed. Though I’m not sure why – normally that’s the cue for anti-government papers to bash Gordon Brown. That isn’t happening here I think. Maybe it just makes for a more dramatic splash. 

The more representative story – things are still bad, though getting less bad, but they’ll stay that way for ages – is both less dramatic and more depressing. Which is probably why Yahoo went for a different – and misleading – slant.

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Why newspapers still need sub-editors #2

A really nice example of an “elephant in the living room” typo, from Bill Bennett’s Knowledge Workers’ blog.

As with investigative journalists, you’ll miss the sub-editors when we’re gone.

Won’t stop them getting rid of us though…

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