Health/science news criticism: “nothing at stake here except the survival of credible journalism”

Paul Raeburn of the Knight Science Journalism Tracker wrote:

The Washington Post announced Tuesday that it will stop reprinting university and other press releases in its Health & Science section following the disclosure of the practice by the Knight Science Journalism Tracker last Friday.

The fact that a blogger like Raeburn had to be the one to point out what was wrong with the practice is unsettling. But congratulations to him for taking them on and ending the practice.

It is somewhat ironic that last week a Washington Post blog post by Joel Achenbach criticized “parasitic reformulation of… syndicated science material that runs in a variety of publications, including, sometimes, my newspaper.”  The post was headlined, The Shroud of Turin, pseudoscience, and journalism.” These excerpts jumped out at me:

“Good journalism has a subtle feature of reticence. We don’t publish everything we hear. We filter. We curate. The goal of the traditional journalist is to create a reputation for accuracy, fairness, relevance and timeliness, and this requires the willingness to not publish things that are unlikely to be true.The Shroud of Turin story brings up all the usual issues about click-bait journalism and our current struggle for survival in a highly disrupted news industry. Here’s a basic rule I’d suggest: The clicks don’t count if the story is wrong. …

There’s nothing at stake here except the survival of credible journalism. For those who are trying to figure out a business model for journalism — and I desperately want these folks to be successful — let me suggest that the ultimate killer app is quality. Quality comes in many forms. In the news business, being fast — ideally first — is a form of quality. Packaging the material in a beautiful way visually is another virtue. But the ultimate virtue in this business is getting it right.

I know that in turning this item into a screed I run the risk of declaring myself an insufferable fogey, and you can see me sprouting mutton-chop sideburns and wearing a monocle. I know, I know: There is no future in being boring. But getting it right, in the long run, will pay off. News executives should not assume that there is a digital gimmick, or technique, or facility with visuals, or dexterity with software, that will mask a deficit in comprehension and expertise. The audience is smarter than that. The audience will reward accuracy and intelligence. At least that’s what I believe — perhaps as matter of faith more than anything else.”

You can call those who criticize some health/medicine/science news practices “insufferable fogies.”  I applaud them.


Addendum:  On Twitter, Burt Cohen wrote: “Let us also not forget ‘robot health journalism’, courtesy of GoogleNews.”



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