It's Not News, It's Fark:
How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off C*** as News
by Drew Curtis
My first experience with botched reporting came when the apartment complex we were living in had a toaster-induced fire in one of its units. There was a dramatic rescue of the third-floor unit's handicapped renter by another tenant suffering from back problems.
The fire made it onto page 3 of The Vancouver Sun, and we were amazed at the many incorrect details the reporter managed to fit into a simple story. Names misspelled; details incorrectly related. This incident of 1987 made me wonder how many incorrect details we are fed each day by the news on radio, tv, newspaper, and today on the Internet.
The primary problems are that (1) 24-hour news operations need material to fill each hour; and (2) advertising-based operations need material to fit around the ads. News is always secondary; the primary needs are filling the 24-hour day and landing the advertising.
Drew Curtis pulls back the curtain on some of the news industries's mischievous ways. These include running press releases as news items, overcovering a single story, and obsessing over blond white women with lost children or spectacular diseases.
If you have ever heard/read a news item about vacation travel ("AAA or CAA says this summer lots of cars will be on the roads"), then you are hearing a regurgitated press release. This is not news, and not worthy of being broadcast as news, because (1) people go on vacation in their cars every summer; and (2) the item is free marketing for the automobile club. Applies to PETA especially. Male reporters are always happy to "cover" near-naked chicks, and PETA knows that.
Worse are press releases that announce made-up statistics. For example, UNESCO announced earlier this year that 1.5 million refugees were in danger in some country or another. After intensive questioning by a BBC interviewer, I heard the UNESCO representative admit to making up the number. Last year's invented number had been one million; this year's had to be larger, and so they picked 1.5 million. Out of the air. Because large numbers make the news.
Mr Curtis highlights other numbers picked out of the air. (Well, he doesn't use the word "air.") There's the one about American companies losing $780 million in productivity because of the Super Bowl. Complete fabrication, but a great way to get free publicity for publicity-seeking firms.
The advertising-driven 24-hour news operation likes press releases, because they are free; in the industry, we call them "fillers."
And then there are these other annual non-news items that our ear are subjected to:
- Rolling backouts possible this summer.
- Center for Disease Control warns of possible flu shot shortage.
- Young men injured in Pamplona's annual running of the bulls.
- Fireworks likely to injure people this holiday weekend.
- Celebrities voice support for nonsensical causes.
Overcoverage is where news organizations spend days on one story. My favorite was the impending non-explosion of Mount St Helens of a few years ago, where long lines of network satellite trucks boosted the local economy, but had little else to do.
Mr Curtis breaks down overcoverage to this handy timeline:
Day 1. Break news.
Day 2. Issue retractions.
Day 3. Talk it to death.
Day 4. Can't... stop... talking.
Day 5. Self-analysis: Has the media gone to far?
Mr Curtis also covers the irritants that grate me the most: headlines that are contradicted by the story; and journalists who can't do math. He quotes a story that claims 60% of Brits use screwdrivers, knives, and other sharp objects instead of floss on their teeth. Missing from the headline was the qualifier "at one time in their lives."
The many anecdotes makes this a fun book to read, and gives you yet another reason to cancel your cable news subscription. As for "fark," it's his word for news that isn't news.
[Warning: This book contains crude language.]
Published in 2007 by Gotham Books
You can purchase this book through Amazon: It's Not News, It's Fark.