Newsnanny knows best

By skepticlawyer

John Quiggin has a useful wrap-up on David Burchell’s peculiar piece of newsnannyism in the Oz. David and his fellow journalists are clearly the nannies, and clearly it’s their job to look after the news. No-one else gets a look in, presumably because we’re, ahem, not worthy. Burchell buckets all and sundry, albeit obliquely, while the article itself seems to have been hacked about rather badly by the sub. The second half is an informative description of a popular Cuban blog that clearly deserves wider notice.

Still, overzealous subs aside, the piece is enough of a roman a clef to make it reasonably clear that Tim Lambert is one of the intended targets. I have no idea who the ‘sacked diplomat’ may be, and don’t much care. I’d just like to take issue with Burchell’s support of journalists’ persistent attempts to claim some sort of moral high ground coupled with a rich sense of their own entitlement (and expertise). Word, guys. You have none of these things.

I disagree with Tim Lambert on many things, but he has forgotten more about statistics than all of Australia’s journalists bar none. The two Andrews likewise when it comes to public policy. The two Johns when it comes to economics. The psephs like Possum Comitatus when it comes to numbers. And Legal Eagle and I make a pretty good fist of stuff when considering matters lawyerly.

Indeed, it’s matters legal that more than anything else forced me to observe how stupid most journalists really are. I’ve spent a goodly fraction of my life watching journalists cause mistrials. They decide, for example, to tell their audience that such-and-such case is a retrial. Or try to interview jurors during a view. Or offer jurors a lift to the crime scene to conduct ‘personal investigations’. Or bail up witnesses in between chief and cross during a break in proceedings. Or try to buttonhole counsel. Or photograph judges and court staff in the middle of proceedings without permission.

Trials cost big bikkies, too. And in criminal trials, it’s the taxpayer footing the bill.

Memo to the Burchells of the world: if all you can get on bloggers is the occasional snark or flame war, then I’d recommend removing the beam in your own eye before commenting further.

/rant. And wish me luck in my evidence exam tomorrow afternoon (UK time). I’m sure I’ve got better things to do than sit in the Examination Schools dressed like a penguin while writing for 3 hours solid, but it’s not as though I have a choice.


  1. Flozza
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Good luck!

  2. Apple77
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Love, love, love your writing (particularly the rants). And good luck with your evidence exam.

  3. Posted June 26, 2008 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    If I can add to this chorus – very few journalists really understand banking and most get it wrong time after time. I would believe the same is happening in other areas as well. There are a few honourable exceptions – but very few.

  4. Posted June 26, 2008 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    The post that drew Burchell’s ire was a originally published by Walkley Magazine and was a criticism of journalists for lazy and inaccurate reporting on the Lancet study. My conclusion was:

    “It is not reasonable to expect journalists to be experts in epidemiology. But it is reasonable to have expected them to be able to find such experts and write informed stories on the Hopkins study. For the most part, they failed.”

  5. Posted June 26, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Dressed like a penguin SL?

    A penguin? I’ll thank you, harumph, to honour the Twadition. It’s very important, when considering matters of jurisprudence et al in the global economy of the 21 st century, to dress like some 14th century priest.

    And pass the port to the left.

  6. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    “This vast outpouring of pseudo-expertise and vituperation serves mainly as a testament to Western societies’ tendency for producing self-important, opinionated folks far in excess of our capacity to employ them.”

    …there being only a finite number of journalist jobs at any one time.

  7. Posted June 26, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Burchell is only a journalist on the side. His day job is as an academic. He doesn’t say that all blogging is rubbish, but just that lots of it is. Who can argue with that? And the alternative to bad blogging which he recommends is not in fact journalism, but a blog which he thinks is good.

    Too think skinned, SL. Maybe pre-exam nerves?

    Incidentally, you do have a choice to subfusc, though it might be less glamorous.

  8. Posted June 27, 2008 at 5:29 am | Permalink

    Incidentally, you do have a choice to subfusc, though it might be less glamorous.

    You do? No-one told any of us, if that’s true. We all turned up looking like penguins and sat the exam accordingly. With carnations…

    Re Burchell: if that piece is indicative of Burchell as a journalist, I dread to think what he’s like as an academic. Maybe there should be a picture of the guy next to the word ‘drongo’ in the next dictionary of Australian slang.

  9. Posted June 30, 2008 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    The alternative is to not do the degree, SL.

  10. John Hasenkam
    Posted June 30, 2008 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Actually, my best ever exam result in spoken Japanese was achieved when slightly tipsy. I think there’s a moral in there somewhere.

    Possibly, a neurotransmitter released under stress, nore, has a small optimal window. Too much and too much “cognitive constriction”, too little and not enough focus. Bit like the wonderful work of the now sadly deceased Patricia Goldman Rakic, the best researcher on primate prefrontal function, wherein she found the same with dopamine function. So as I like to say: a little stress goes a long way. Too much and you go the wrong way. This, will you note, is highly conjectural.

  11. Posted June 30, 2008 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I can corroborate the real-or-perceived ethanol effect in non-exam situations. When I visited Montreal, my vague schoolgirl French recollections served me well while a little drunk, but I was all at sea when sober. My impression at the time is that I was more confident, and tried out words that I’d be too scared to try when less uninhibited.

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