Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for April 2015

Journalists and incompetence

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The last few days, I have read a number of news articles dealing with the Klitschko–Jennings fight. These have provided ample evidence of my long-standing complaint that journalists tend not to know what they are talking about and fail to do appropriate background research and quality checks.

Their blunders include:

  1. Referring to Jennings as “Brandon” (actually “Bryant”).

  2. Calling the small-by-heavyweight standards Ruslan Chagaev a giant when listing prior opponents of Klitschko. (Possibly confusing him with 7-footer Nikolai Valuev, but Valuev never fought Klitschko in the first place.)

  3. Claiming that Klitschko won his title from Samuel Peter, instead of Chris Byrd. (Vitali Klitschko, his now retired older brother, did take his title from Peter, which might be the source of the error.)

  4. Confusing the time Klitschko has been undefeated with the length of his title reign.

  5. Short-changing Joe Louis severely in terms of title defenses, turning his record setting 25 into (possibly) 18.

To err is human, but is it too much to ask that someone spends two minutes on Wikipedia, when being payed to write and being published to thousands readers? Is it too much to ask that the papers have an independent fact-checker (not to mention spell-checker…) go over a work before allowing it to be published in their name?

(I too make mistakes, but despite writing for free, during my spare time, and for a far smaller readership, I am more conscientious than a very large proportion of the alleged professionals—let alone more intelligent and better educated.)

OK, so journalists get a few details wrong. Surely, this is not the end of the world?

No; not in and by it self. The problem is this:

If they get such easily checked details wrong, what can we expect about their fact checking in other articles? If the writers are so lacking in knowledge of this one field they are writing about, what can we expect when other fields are concerned?

What is the result in terms of informing the public? Educating voters? Giving the man on the street a reasonable chance to form a valid opinion?

Poor journalists strongly increase the risk that society suffers under poor politicians, that prejudice and ignorance grows more common, that destructive agendas can gain a following, …

(And, yes, my experience from other fields, including politics, economics, science, …, is that journalists are extremely lacking and that the problems is by no means limited to sports. This in particular when considering other factors that are less relevant when it comes to sports, e.g. the ability to think critically or to understand causes and consequences.)

A notable example is Spiegel Onlinew, a German online news source that I often visit due to its width of coverage: There are so many instances of problematic articles, including poor writing, ignorance of politics and economics, blatant agenda pushing, prejudice, and a sheer inability to think, that the German saying “geschenkt ist noch zu teuer” often crosses my mind. (Literally, “[even when] gifted [it] is still too costly”. In effect, something has so little or even negative value that not even the opportunity cost in terms of e.g. time taken to read, storage space needed, whatnot, is outweighed.)

Indeed, the “Brandon Jennings” error is from this source, specifically http://www.spiegel.de/sport/sonst/wladimir-klitschko-siegt-mit-muehe-gegen-brandon-jennings-a-1030697.htmle. By now, the article text has been changed, but the URL still contains the original error. Interestingly, I just now see another error that I missed when skimming through the text: It claims that Klitschko with this his 27th title fight sets a new record, pulling ahead of Ali and Holmes with 26 each. In reality, so English sources, he pulls even with Louis, making this the second time Louis is short-changed. (The numbers for Ali and Holmes are not unreasonably large, but I would not trust them without an explicit count. 27 should be correct for Louis, however, with one original victory, the aforementioned 25 defenses, and the ultimate loss.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 26, 2015 at 10:27 am