Monday, October 11, 2010

Professionalism, the media and deaf cats

Image by: Marianne Perdomo (Gran Canaria, Spain)
Because this will be read by some of the good folk with whom I once worked, I want to start this post by clearly stating that most reporters and editors are very bright people and excellent at their jobs.

That said, give even the best runner only three minutes to run a mile and you have set the runner up for failure.

Real reporters don't just rewrite press releases. Or do they? Sadly, in today's world the answer is, "Yes, they do!" And sometimes word for word.

A recent press release claimed, "Cats are the only animal besides humans that can be born deaf." When I got that press release, alarm bells went off in my head and it wasn't just my tinnitus. 

When I got in touch with the researcher behind the study in question he told me, "Just about any animal could be born deaf. The press release is a bit of an overstatement." Of course, I already knew that; I had googled the statement and discovered lots of animals may be deaf at birth.

Yet, the Irish Examiner and the Irish Independent, reported, ". . . cats – the only animal besides humans that can be born congenitally deaf." Hmmm. Makes you wonder how much they examine and how independent they are.

A lot of papers in Great Britain repeated the error. It looks as if they all simply republished a story supplied by a common source. At no point did a bright, questioning editor check the copy as would have been done in the not-so-distant past.

Science Daily, Science Blog and Science A Gogo all reported "Cats are the only animal besides humans that can be born deaf." Now we know how urban myths take root.

This little error, one easily made by someone charged with writing a lot of press releases, should also have been easily noticed and easily corrected. Instead it has been repeated in the global media without question. 

Global? Yes, global. I found the story on Aaj Ki Khabar and other distant news sites.

All too sad.
Oh, if you're interested in my take on the story, it can be found on the Digital Journal. Maybe you can find my errors. Remember, I am not a professional reporter. Cut me a little slack.

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