Posts Tagged bad news
Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to our lovely Skeptics in the Pub crowd, where I took about dissecting the media and generally picking out just how to spot PR bullshit in the press. For all of you who were sadly unable to make it, fret not! For we have the whole thing on video. Feel free to discuss in the comments below!
*Sorry for the random sound issues in the middle – apparently passing taxis were interfering with the radio mics. It was not – repeat NOT – any kind of nefarious hacking tactics from the tabloids…
Bad News: How PR Came to Rule Modern Journalism
by Michael Marshall
When: Thursday, December 15th, 2011 8.00 – 11.00 PM
Where: The Head of Steam, 7 Lime Street, Liverpool
“You can’t believe everything you read in the papers.”
Everyone knows this, but few people realise this truism extends far beyond the celebrity pages and gossip columns, and spills into ‘real’ news. Here, the near-invisible influence of PR companies is often pivotal in deciding what news gets told, and how it gets reported. By taking a brief look at the history of modern journalism, and using real examples taken from recent headlines, Michael Marshall will show why you really, really can’t believe everything you read in the papers.
Michael Marshall is the co-founder and vice-president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and appears on the “Skeptics with a K” and ‘Be Reasonable’ podcasts. Besides organising the national and international 10:23 Campaign against homeopathy, he writes about the often-unsuspected role of PR in modern media. Michael has written for The Times, The Guardian and The New Statesman, and has lectured as part of the Sheffield Hallam University Journalism degree.
Ben Goldacre once called him ‘a mighty nerd from Liverpool’, and the self-proclaimed psychic Joe Power once called him something very rude and unprintable.
This might well be a little bit of old news by now (given that I covered this story on our second anniversary Skeptics With A K show) but I can still confidently say that anyone who s watching the live stream within an internet explorer 6 browser is an idiot.
Now you might think that’s because there was a recent hoax survey which claimed that a psychometric testing company had analysed the IQ of users of different browsers, and had determined that users of internet explorer 6 are most likely to be flat-out dumb, but that’s not actually why I’m calling you idiots. It just a shit browser, massively outdated and an all-round piece of trash, and if you’re using it, you’re objectively an idiot.
That aside, there is something interesting about this hoax survey story. For those that haven’t heard of it, last month the media was all over this story, and not just the usual suspects. The short version is that AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Company published a press release claiming that after surveying 101,326 people for their IQ and broswer of choice, and mapping this into a good solid graph, they were able to establish that internet explorer users had a ludicrously low IQ, around the 80 mark. Read the rest of this entry »
A few weeks ago I gave a BadNews talk at Ignite Liverpool, a cool evening where people from all manner of backgrounds give 5-minute talks on something that interests them. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.
Regular readers of this site – albeit ones with long memories (I’ve been bad for the whole blogging malarky for a while, I know) – will know that from time to time I like to take a punt on what I think will be in the newspapers soon, to see how good my predictive PR powers are. Here’s a quick, very short and possibly utterly wrong prediction:
Gossip, Girls! How British Women Are Queens Of The Chinwag
British women really are queens of gossip, chattering more than twice as often as men, according to the latest research.
More than half of British women admit to gossiping more than once a day, with many confessing to spending over 600 hours each year discussing the latest celebrity news, with men trailing behind with under 300 hours each year.
Top topics for girly gossip included football veteran and alleged philanderer Ryan Giggs, and new addition to the Royal family and national sweetheart Pippa Middleton.
The survey, carried out by <total guess here – The Carphone Warehouse>, questioned 3000 people as part of the launch of their new <phone/contract/promotion>.
Top 5 gossip topics
- Ryan Giggs
- Pippa Middleton
- Britain’s Got Talent
- Cheryl Cole
- The Royal Wedding
Now, as I say, all of this is pure prediction, and like all predictions it might fall flat on its face! The gender angle is a bit of a guess, as is the number of hours per year, but I’ve a good feeling about a few of the other details. I’ll let you know if it pans out!
The following is taken in part from Episode 46 of our podcast ‘Skeptics with a K’, give or take the odd addition.
A generation of children ‘turn their backs on sport’ – so said the BBC recently. And they weren’t alone, with similar stories gracing the pages of the Daily Mail, The Independent and pretty much every other media outlet going. But I’ll focus on the BBC, because I respect them most. Moving on with the story:
A generation of British children are turning their backs on sport and physical activity, a survey suggests.
The poll for British Triathlon and Tata Steel suggests 10% cannot ride a bike and 15% cannot swim.
Connoisseurs of my PR takedowns in the past will spot the brand names right there in paragraph two – British Triathlon and Tata Steel. The latter are a steelworking giant who sponsor the Tata Kids Of Steel – a community programme to drive kids into exercise, and in particular into the swimming, bike-riding and running that constitutes the triathlon, as promoted by British Triathlon.
Now, it’s worth pointing out at this point – just because the British Triathlon federation and its corporate sponsor Tata Steel have a vested interest in telling the world that children are no longer riding bicycles and swimming and generally triathlonning, it doesn’t mean the survey involved here is dodgy. But it does mean we should be treading a little carefully, and we should certainly be examining the claims being made perhaps a little more skeptically than if an entirely independent body were making the same claims.
As a brief aside at this point, it’s worth pointing out that the first thing I thought when I glanced over this story was ‘who are Tata Steel’ and ‘what have they got to do with sports’ – questions which were soon answered with a mild Google. These big businesses aren’t stupid, and I’d speculate that for every pound spent on this sports initiative, a corporate sponsor would see two pounds or more come back to them in either goodwill, reputational benefit, or convenient blind-eyes to some of the inevitably murkier elements of a large-scale industrial business.
Anyway, back to the BBC, and the story we’re being cautiously skeptical about, and here come the statistics Read the rest of this entry »