Jem Muharrem

Words on thought, art and music

Journalism by Numbers

This is my story as it appeared on the Brighton Journalist Works Blogspot today: In light of the Leveson Enquiry and the pressure that the press has recently come under, BJW are making sure that their trainee journalists are fully aware of their responsibility to the public. Here is the link to the original:

https://jemmuharrem.wordpress.com/2012/01/17/science-talk-at-bjw/

In light of the Leveson Enquiry and the scrutiny that the press has recently come under, Brighton Journalist Works are ensuring their new intake of students in January 2012 are fully aware of the responsibility they have to the public and to their trade.

Trainee Journalists were given a crash course yesterday on good and bad practise in science reporting at the BJW headquarters in Argus House, Brighton.

Dr Sam Mugford of the Norwich-based John Innes Centre and Prof David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University teamed up in a two-pronged attack on the irresponsibility shown by some journalists in collecting and reporting scientific data and the flexibility of statistics.

Dr Mugford addressed issues like “Why scientists don’t give straight answers”, highlighting the discrepancy between careful, considered thought processes of the scientific community and the whip-crack speeds expected of journalists. He said the trend leads to misunderstanding and manipulation of data in the search for good copy. “It is important for scientists and the media to have an open and honest relationship” he said.

Citing the MMR/Autism case as an example of lack of communication and use of limited sources, he called for balance in science reporting and forethought in comparing researched and ratified scientific research with emotive human stories.

Dr Spiegelhalter followed this by taking the audience on a fascinating journey through scientific misrepresentation in the press. “You will constantly need to ask questions of the facts being fed to you” he said. Students were warned to be aware of organisations fudging numbers to push their own agendas. “You need to pick out PR from good journalism” he said. The trainee journalists were encouraged to constantly question the data given to them; to be inquisitive and hungry for accuracy and to take personal responsibility for fact.

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