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Well, if anyone ever wondered why scientists hate to speak to people in the media, now we know for sure. On Sunday, Bloomberg ran a piece about pubic lice titled “Brazilian Bikini Waxes Make Crab Lice Endangered Species” that might have been brilliant (because: pubes!) except it wasn't. Not even a little bit.

The article provides interesting evidence about one Australian clinic that hasn't seen a case of pubic lice since 2008 but get data from no other clinics. Later they note that crabs can be self-treated with insecticide yet fail to provide further information -- did legislation make insecticide available to the public after 2008 in Australia? Was a more effective type of insecticide introduced? A change in the form of application? Have sales figures among the major insecticide brands suffered in the country since waxing started to take off?

No, none of that. But why are we thinking about journalism right now? Have we no heart? CRABS ARE DYING OUT! Or are they? 
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A.V. Flox's profile photoDede King's profile photoAyoub Khote's profile photoMalthus John's profile photo
45 comments
 
It's appalling how irresponsible major news outlets are in their reporting. Even CNN is guilty of headlines which are clearly designed to draw eyes instead of actually condensing the material of the articles themselves. 
 
Unfortunately, newspapers are in the business of selling newspapers, not truth.
 
+A.V. Flox Without naming names, I do know that -- in 2007 -- at least one researcher was paying relatively good money for samples of public lice. Enough so that someone I know (who was at the time celibate) was thinking of hosting a colony in order to partially pay for veterinary school. 

This was all told to me directly by the person involved. Which indicates to me that they were not particularly commonplace then.
Brian J
 
I can't believe that this was widely reported without even the slightest bit of fact checking.
 
+Brian J make sure you never watch Fox News ;-) It's the norm nowadays. Fact checking is elitist. Never let facts cloud prejudices. In this specific case it seems the story was launched by a company. 
 
+Douglas Wake, I can't fault them for wanting to grab attention with headlines -- that's what they're about. I just wish they were more consistent with articles and that articles were better at providing the whole story. 
 
+John Bump, that makes me sad. Journalism has the power to be much more -- we have so many historical examples of it being crucial to democracy, but there are moments that make me want to smash my head against the wall. 
 
+A.V. Flox and that's exactly what I'm saying. Accuracy should be tantamount in journalism. 
 
+Andreas Schou, that's an interesting anecdote, but again, without names and more research, we can't really say, either way. 
 
There are still good news sources.  The New Yorker checks their facts and rarely publishes stuff that is inaccurate, for instance.  But they haven't been profitable for twenty years, so... we get what we buy.
Brian J
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+Jan Wildeboer This got reported as truth by news orgs I consider 'reputable.'
 
+Douglas Wake, or they should at least strive for it. Rule number one of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It 
 
+John Bump, the New York Times had a big problem with the way their online publication featured op-eds. I have seen a lot of people cite opinion pieces as fact because they were under the NYT header. They have since changed it a bit, and it's better, but I think they could do better. See this example of an "opinion" piece that unsurprisingly got a lot of press elsewhere as "fact": http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/opinion/you-love-your-iphone-literally.html

Another unfortunate event of the transition to web is the amount of blogs newspapers have launched. I blogged for a media company and have worked with other bloggers and I know very few of these (though they tend to appear under their newspapers headers) have access to the same fact-checkers that "real" journalists have. 

This is a problem, too.
 
Have sales figures among the major insecticide brands suffered in the country since waxing started to take off?
 
What another greezy episode on route?Tell the world my loins make wiser choices.
 
+A.V. Flox Oh you're number one on my go to list for all things sensual. I'm always in the mood to do research lol, curiosity is a blessing and a curse, but lice can wait for a bit. 
 
There was a time when News agencies had to be able to back up their facts...

Or am I looking at the past through rose tinted glasses again?
 
+Ayoub Khote I just read that EOnline referred to Accra (capital of Ghana) as an "impoverished village". A little like the tyke who referred to Africa as a country. So yes you are :)
 
+Dede Craig King, you just let me know when you're in the mood and I'll give you something to look into. Or maybe you'd like to write something for me sometime? 
 
+Dede Craig King and +Ayoub Khote, I have seen news agencies point to completely wrong countries on world maps during discussions of a crisis. Mistakes happen. This is more than a mistake, it feels like a trend, a laxness that is settling into the bones of the craft. 
 
+A.V. Flox I'd love to, just let me know :) 

On your second comment, I sometimes think laxness is an understatement given the sheer ease of fact checking available to journalists today. I can admit to looking up the names of foreign cities to check whether it is in fact a city, a suburb or a whole freaking country, how difficult can it be?
 
+Dede Craig King, it's not that fact-checking is hard to do, it's that newsrooms are shrinking and the people who handle this part of the process are being let go or tasked with other things as staff is reduced, making it difficult to focus on the facts before them. The industry is changing and the experiment with online advertising is not going very well. It's a mess and a lot of unfortunate habits are forming as a result, among them "post now, edit later."
 
+A.V. Flox I think I'm with +Ayoub Khote on the rose tinted glasses where I used to believe that each journalist fact checks and re-checks his article prior to posting. I wasn't even aware that there are people employed to do just that. Do editors still check articles prior to going live? You've opened my eyes. 
 
+Dede Craig King, journalists haven't traditionally wrapped a piece to turn around and post it, though -- that's the thing. There is an editorial chain that unfolds between the writing and the publishing that has been lost in transition, and that's part of the problem.
 
+A.V. Flox You must have your work cut for you, or is it different in online media as opposed to traditional media?
 
+Dede Craig King, online media is a whole different animal. At +BlogHer, there is definitely an editorial process. When I was editor, I would look over submissions and let writers know how to build stronger, better-supported ideas, what sources to cite and which to avoid. I worked hard to make sure the Health section especially was free of churnalism. It's hard when it's just a writer and an editor, but any questions were easily referred to senior editor +Julie Ross Godar and if necessary, editor-in-chief +Stacy Morrison.

I have worked at other media properties where writers had no editors to work with, though, and they were tasked with coming up with ideas, writing pieces, making sure they were accurate and marketing them so they met page view expectations. It's a mess and not a surprise that misinformation abounds. Writers should not have that much work, not without a corresponding salary increase that enables them to focus all their time on the process. It's a shame and part of the reason we're seeing so many problems, in my opinion. 
 
+A.V. Flox Wow. Your opinion is very much a valid one. It sounds like some journalists are grossly undervalued, not a particularly healthy outlook for young aspiring writers. A friend of mine studied journalism, became a journalist then resigned and ended up in corporate communications. Her main reason was because of remuneration which she felt (rightly so) wasn't commensurate with the travel, hours and effort she was putting it. It's a pity as she really loved it. Corporate is killing her soul. 
 
+Dede Craig King, it's never been a high-paying gig, to be sure, but at least before you could make some kind of a living at it. These days, you'd be crazy to expect to pay your rent, much less all your bills as a writer. I know editorial positions even that pay so little, your heart would break. In a lot of ways, we're back to the 1920s, fighting for our rights. It's so easy for publications to hire everyone as an independent contractor and not only pay them poorly, or only adequately, but deny them benefits or health insurance. It's wrong. It's so, so wrong.
 
+A.V. Flox My heart breaks for them, writing is an art, but as with art it rarely pays the bills unless you happen to be a best selling author. What do they do to supplement their income? I know a few write erotica anonymously, but not everyone is that way inclined...
 
+Dede Craig King, you get hired to be a web writer, though. A book author doesn't get hired. They know the risk of putting time into a book. A web writer shows up for a job. That writer's employer shouldn't try to skirt minimum wage laws or paying benefits and health insurance by making a writer into a contractor when what they want him or her to do is a full-time job.

It's nonsense and from that angle, it's not surprising that web writers are churning out garbage. If they are giving these properties exclusive rights to their work and can't resell the story, why shouldn't they throw something together and move on to their next story quota with some other outlet? We are not going to see quality online until we start paying writers and editors better. But to do that, properties need to figure out how to monetize themselves, and that's not been an easy game.
 
+A.V. Flox That is a tough one. Advocacy is one thing, but there's little anyone can do to make any online property profitable enough to enable them to increase their salary budget. Competition is fierce. This is where some innovation needs to come in, something radical that will revolutionize the industry. A journalistic paradigm shift. The what is the question.
 
+A.V. Flox I wholeheartedly agree with your point of view. Advertorials are a necessary "evil", but don't have to be seen as such provided the benefits to the reader far outweigh any concerns about journalistic integrity. I've seen some very well written advertorials in magazines, online, blogs etc. Whoever wrote the pulled one was probably just doing it wrong. 
 
+Dede Craig King, I wish I had seen it. But then -- it was the Church of Scientology. Is there any way to not do that one wrong? 
 
+A.V. Flox Oh goodness LOL, okay that explains everything :) (I didn't read the article just the post and subsequent comments)
 
I think that news companies are starting to feel the full effect of the web. With so much information available, and so many anal retentive concerned people checking facts, they can't be as lazy as they used to be... They may have always been like this, but they never got caught...
 
Interesting conversation +Dede Craig King & +A.V. Flox on the industry.

+Ayoub Khote I think that's very true. It has certainly changed news, and also the way the Gov communicates.  Both were able to fairly easily manipulate information for quite some time, and we are all living in a strange time in history, from the start of TV to the start of social media.  TV changed everything once already, but now it's changing again, just as things were settling down from the previous revolution.

Also interesting is the price we <apparently> have to pay for the ability to fact check in real time, and broadcast the results without any intervention from the "editors" of society, and that is that we will probably simply have to live with a percentage of society not believing whatever happens to run across their screen that day. 

They are able to fashion a fairly sophisticated output, like a video, and make radical claims of conspiracy, cover-up, and the like very quickly, and appear to be "fact checkers" themselves.

Hopefully, the collective editorial ability of social media and online/mobile connectivity will be able to keep up with these people, and separate the wheat from the chaff.
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