In a spot-on analysis of how news sites
cover scientific research, The Guardian's Martin Robbins
creates a mock article
that humorously details, line-by-line, how writers lazily fall into
generic reporting on the subject. Beginning with an "inane" introductory
question that he has "no intention of answering," Robbins then walks
readers through the stock devices: there's the "basically this is a brief soundbite"
paragraph from a scientist, then a bolded sub-heading that "gives the impression I am
about to add useful context," rounding off with "related" links at the
bottom of the article that are usually anything but. Though the parody
takes a few jabs at the sometimes labyrinthine process by which academic
research becomes public, the sharpest barbs are reserved for the harried writer whose job it is to "break" such
news. Here are a few choice paragraphs from Martin's take:
In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.
In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".
If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.
This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like "the scientists say" to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.
[H/T: Boing Boing]