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2D: Media rigour

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In some ways, watching a dying industry attempt a caterpillar-like metamorphosis is as fascinating as following a nascent one. It’s genuinely intriguing to see the choices different players make about which parts of their former selves they retain, which they reject, and what new elements they add to their products. For this 2D post, I’ve picked out two articles which look at very different responses to those challenges.

The first is an article from the Columbia Journalism Review by Peter Canby about the fact-checking process at the New Yorker, and the way in which that process has morphed under economic pressure. I’ve never before seen such a clear admission from anyone – other than, perhaps, The Guardian – that mistakes happen.

Ultimately we make mistakes. I wish we didn’t, but they are inevitable and constant.

Admitting a problem is, as they say, the first step to addressing it. This article suggests to me the the New Yorker has invested a great deal of effort in working out how to minimise errors without maximising costs, and continues to do so.

At the other end of the spectrum, as Martin Robbins describes in the New Statesman, the Daily Mail has taken a rather different approach, seemingly involving a rather strong dose of hypocrisy.

The coverage of Kick Ass star Chloe Moretz at the age of 14 contains some classic examples: looking “all grown up” she was “every inch the classy young lady” at a film premiere, for example. All this comes from a newspaper campaigning vigorously against ‘sexualisation’ and its impact on children.

I personally find the Daily Mail‘s approach distasteful, but it’s hard to deny that it has been successful. Mail Online is now the world’s most popular news website (perhaps “news” should be in inverted commas), with almost double the number of unique browsers of the BBC News website. Vox populi, vox dei – or at least vox populi, vox argentum. If this is what most people want to read, perhaps we should be a little more respectful towards their art in our tone, even if we make the argument no less forcefully that the protection of the individuals concerned should be paramount. Or perhaps we should focus on the underlying problems of society, rather than the newspaper-based symptoms. I don’t know.

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them! The photo at the top of this post was posted to Flickr by Jon S and has been used under Creative Commons Licence.

This 2,030th post was filed under: 2D, Media, , , , , , , .

Amanda Platell vs preventative medicine

Some years ago, when I used to be involved in public speaking and debating competitions, I relied heavily on one strategy: Choose the most ridiculous point of view, and argue forcefully for it.

Thus, over a time, I ended up arguing in favour of littering, staunchly defending the poaching of endangered species in Africa, and strongly advocating the bypass an upcoming election and the simple investiture of me as the next Prime Minister.

This strategy always served me well. It allowed for wit, a re-examination of issues from a completely new perspective, and – ultimately – the chance to guide people down a seemingly sensible path to a position where the most absurd solution suddnely becomes the most logical.

This is actually something that’s really quite simple to do, and it always attracts attention – and, in my context, often attracted prizes.

Having seen today’s Daily Mail, I’m beginning to wonder whether Amanda Platell is employing the same strategy to boost her fledgling career. Unfortunately for her, she’s terrible at it.

In an admittedly arresting column, Platell tries to argue against preventative medicine. There are many well rehearsed arguments against preventative medicine, not least that the logical conclusion is that everybody is in need of some form of ‘treatment’, the cost of which will ultimately be unsustainable within the NHS.

But Platell tries to be provocative, by picking on ‘fat people’. She suggests that fat people should not be supported by the NHS to lose weight, as the money would be better spent on Herceptin and Aricept.

She’s comparing the furore surrounding the delayed provision of drugs whilst evidence about them is weighed against their cost effectiveness with the provision of weight loss treatments which are not only proven to work, but allow a person to improve their physical wellbeing to a point that they are likely to use fewer NHS resources in future.

This would possibly be passably illogical – after all, one has to skirt around the logic of an issue to convince people that something ridiculous is right – had she not then gone and pointed out the flaw in her theory in the fourth sentence, where she points out the long term costs of providing knee replacements, hip replacements, back pain treatments, and mobility aids to fat people. But Amanda! If we stop the people being fat, those costs disappear!

She points out that the patients of her friend who works in an NHS weight-loss clinic – a ‘friend’ she evidently wants to see sacked – don’t know what foods are healthy and unhealthy, and then suggests that withdrawal of services advising them on healthy eating would ‘shock a huge number of the overweight’ into losing weight.

She talks about her childhood in “post-war, food-scarce, ration-booked Britain”, despite growing up in Perth, Australia, and being born three years after rationing ended.

Right at the end of her column, she slips in that alcohol and tobacco are equally ‘the result of individuals choosing an unhealthy lifestyle”, and we should only treat the malignant results of these aberrations rather than stop the original cause.

There was a time when I liked Amanda Platell’s writing. Back in her New Statesman days, her column would be a must-read. I rarely agreed within anything she said, but in a strange way, that made it all the more compelling.

So why is she wasting her time writing sub-standard articles for the Daily Mail – not quite spiteful enough to be Melanie Phillips, not quite outraged enough to be Richard Littlejohn, and not quite far enough up her own backside to be Quentin Letts?

This 1,389th post was filed under: News and Comment, , , , , .

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