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Worst day of the year – for poor journalism

February 1st, 2007

Dr Petra

Did you know a week ago on Monday was the most depressing day of the year?

Well it was, for a number of reasons.

As usual, Cliff Arnall was using a formula to predict the depressing day, and miserably journalists were still covering the story.

Which is interesting because last year when the story came out and Mr Arnall claimed to be from a particular university, that university contacted the journalists who’d covered the story to say that Mr Arnall wasn’t employed by them and also wasn’t doing any science they recognised.

Seems journalists have short memories since nobody appeared to recall this.

What I found even more depressing was a classic example of bad journalism.

I discovered I’d been quoted about the most depressing day in the St Petersburg Times (Florida). Which was curious since I didn’t remember talking to a reporter from that paper.

In the piece, which describes Arnall’s depressing ‘research’, I’m quoted as dismissing the study. Which is fair enough since it’s no secret the research is dodgy. What isn’t fair enough is the piece implies the following:
* That I’d been contacted by the reporter and given them the quote
* That I’d given the quote in relation to the recent Arnall press coverage
* And that the quote given best described my response to the ‘depressing day research’

None of these things were true. Nobody from the paper called me. The quote given was selected from a blog entry from last year which was actually based on another journalist’s piece of work. The quote was selected from a longer blog and wasn’t the best description of my critique of the research. I wasn’t asked if I was happy to be quoted from the blog, nor was the blog mentioned in the piece.

All of which was a bit of a downer. I appreciate that blogs are in the public domain and can be quoted without request, and the whole point of this blog is to share information and encourage debate on sex, media and social science. However, most journalists who want to quote from the blog usually get in touch, ask permission, let me know what they want to quote and double check if this is okay. Usually I’m happy for this (in fact they don’t even have to ask permission so long as they mention the blog where my quote came from). If they get in touch usually I’ll be able to give them an even more useful quote, which I’m always happy to do.

So deciding not to be too down about the whole depressing day and equally depressing journalism I emailed the reporter concerned to explain how I was a bit surprised to see the quote, that I’d be happy in future to help contribute to stories, but I would prefer the courtesy of mentioning the quote came from a blog and not a direct contact with me.

Did I hear anything back from the reporter? Did they reply saying they’d work differently in the future? In the spirit of fair play I gave them over a week to get back in touch. I got absolutely no response.

Which is a pity since in a week where journalists were happy to give coverage to fake research that a growing body of academics and social scientists are very unhappy about, it also was the week where a journalist got paid for writing a piece that implied they’d done their job but in fact just made use of another journalist’s work and my blog.

In short, it was a very depressing day.

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