Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

Good Journalism

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything on my blog. To be honest, I’ve been much too busy, and I’m still trying to do five things at once, although employing my mum to do the basic day-to-day admin has certainly helped to take the load off a bit.

Anyway, the reason I’m posting this now is that I want to congratulate John Gruber. Not only has he had the courage to quit his job and take-up blogging full-time, but he’s also posted a number of excellent articles since doing so, including an excellent and quite damning indictment of some extremely poor journalism from Associated Press.

Why does this matter to me, you ask? Well, I’ve been thinking for some time that there are too many journalists who have forgotten what their job is supposed to be about. Journalists are supposed to present balanced, plain accounts of the facts, and in recent times both balance and fact seem somewhat lacking from some quarters.

Even the BBC, who historically were pretty trustworthy, have been shamelessly promoting issues such as “radiation” from mobile phones, using phrases like “genuine concern” to legitimise what basically amounts to a load of pseudo-scientific claptrap based largely on the fact that the general public are hysterical about the word “radiation”.

Of course, if you’re a journalist, sensationalism is much more fun. What’s the point in being accurate if you don’t get the ratings, right?

That’s what I like about John Gruber. He might not be a professional journalist, but he tells it straight and checks his facts out.

More about radiation

If the BBC were in fact responsible, accurate, journalists of the type we all wish they were, they would be careful to explain that mobile phones emit radio waves, a type of non-ionising electro-magnetic radiation. They would go on to explain that electromagnetic radiation formed a spectrum, going from the lowest energy end (very low frequency radio waves) through radio and microwaves to infra-red, then visible light, ultra-violet light and on up to x-rays, gamma rays and finally cosmic rays at the very high energy end. They would also point out that the term “radiation” is very general and applies to many different things—even things like sound or waves in the sea—.

They would point out that light waves contain more energy than mobile phones’ radio bursts, that people have lived near the Crystal Palace television transmitter, which has been around since 1950, puts out well over 4 megawatts, which is over a million times the output of many mobile phones, with the highest power outputs at frequencies not dissimilar to those used by mobile telephones (487.25MHz for ITV up to 567.25MHz for BBC Two). Do we have significant incidence of cancer or “brain injury” in the area nearest to the transmitter? If we do, it’s been kept extremely quiet.

What really riles me about the “radiation” thing, though, is the way that journalists are claiming that their ridiculous position is based on some desire for “balance”, because in this case it’s a balance between fact (which journalists are paid to report, right?) and clap-trap. Balance between viewpoints is one thing. Balance between fact and lie is quite another.