The Pitfalls of Reporting

There’s a scientist, let’s call him “Brucellino”, who some time ago objected to a report on work to start up the Large Hadron Collider at the European organisation for nuclear research, known as “CERN“. He is a physicist and the reporters’ layman’s writing on his field of expertise left him cold.
He took issue on a number of points and lacerated the reporting. In doing so, he raised an interesting question about the nature of journalism and reporting.   
It`s the curse of journalism that one is most often not a specialist on the topic one covers, yet one`s readership includes subject experts. Some of them have pretty high horses…   
The problem is threefold: expertise, time and space. Most journalists are not experts at anything, not even their craft. The better among us have enquiring and open minds, embrace life-long learning and seek to rely on experts, such as “Brucellino”. But even the best of us are often foiled by time and space.
Former Star editor Peter O`Sullivan has beautifully summarised the news process as “the best stab at the truth in the time available.” To this I`d add “space”, making the news process “the best stab at the truth in the time and space available.”

All too often, even at good publications, there is not sufficient time before deadline to pursue that “truth” to its ultimate conclusion and just as often, it must be simplified for a lay audience or cut to fit its word allocation. This is where experts such as “Brucellino get upset. You too, when the subject is defence and the reporter (or duty subeditor) has mangled the details. 

That was certainly the case with some reports emerging from last weeks` Exercise Young Eagle Open Day.

To protect the guilty, the reporters concerned will remain nameless – and to an extent blameless. 

It is probably not their fault they know so painfully little about military matters and produced somewhat garbled accounts rife with avoidable inaccuracies. It is not their mistake they have no mentors and don`t think they have anywhere to turn for help.

It is further not their error that defence is regarded as a junior beat in the mainstream media, meaning editors give it little space and less priority, often assigning young journalists to the few events they choose to cover.

They can also not truly be answerable for running off on a tangent at such events, reporting, for example that the air assault and parachute skills tested at Young Eagle can be used to combat footfall hooliganism during next year`s FIFA Confederations Cup. Amusingly, the report also had soccer mogul Irvin (the Iron Duke) Khoza as SANDF logistics chief. 

Indeed, mixing soccer and defence has become something of a media preoccupation. Several reports emanating from the Chief of the Air Force`s recent press conference also had more to say about soccer than the state of the Air Force. 

This is a cry for help. We, all of us, must help. defenceWeb exists in part to address this knowledge deficit. But we cannot do it alone. There is a crying need for industry and the military to sponsor, hold and host a reporters` “boot camp” where journalists can experience the military.

We should also make ourselves available as mentors.

Exposure to journalists will have positive spin-offs for the military and industry too, principally in gaining insight into how the media machine works (or doesn`t).

Most journalists want to make a positive difference. When it comes to defence, it is our task to help them.

What say you?

On a technical note

We now have close to 3000 readers – which is most pleasing after just two and-a-half months.

Thank you to each one of you.

One gripe from you concerns reading our content over slow servers. The complaint is that it takes a long time to load stories and read. An email would be faster. It would, but comes with its own pitfalls.

My technical advisors suggest you try the RSS feed option. This packages all new reports in a newsletter format with a “click through” to those reports that interest you.

Our technicians recommend FeedDemon in addition to the feeds available on our website. Try it and let us know…