'My RSS reader is a Journalist'

The BBC's reporting is going backwards. For years it was my go-to news site as it always sidebar links to all the websites of the source material for a news story. Even if the reporting was poor, I could always read the original papers or quotes. But a recent revamp of their site has dropped all the external links! Was it too hard for the journalists to a keep a track of where they got their material?

OK, I'm being a little unfair, since their main source has been press releases for some years - it is amazing the similarity of the wording when you can read the original press releases on AlphaGalileo. They have been republishing company and university press officer propaganda with barely a change for years.

Don't just take my word for it: if you want a pithy and knowledgeable statement of all that is wrong with science journalism, you can't do much better than read this, by The Lay Scientist blog at the Guardian. 

That post is a great parody of most of the British media's science output, fitting all research into a bland identikit structure that neither educates the masses nor informs those who already know something about the subject. The masses do not benefit from the patronisingly shallow overview that is so simplistic that even the basic principles are left out as potentially too confusing. The educated do not benefit as there is not even a useful link to the research abstract , the researcher's homepage or even the organisation involved.

And all the “important” words are put in “scare” quotes, so the “journalist” does not even have to take responsibility for the words they have “written”. 

The parody is great, and the writer has now followed that up with an inside, in-depth analysis of why the mainstream media, the BBC included, sadly, has allowed itself to abandon the honourable traditions of scientific journalism.

Depressingly, a lack of money to do the job properly is not on the hit list, but the journalists themselves are. A picture is painted of aimless journos wandering around conferences being distracted by all the unpublished PhD poster work in foyer, and not understanding a word of what they are told.

A great comment from the piece repeats and comment from Ed Yong sums it up:
“If you are not actually providing any analysis, if you're not effectively 'taking a side', then you are just a messenger, a middleman, a megaphone with ears. If that's your idea of journalism, then my RSS reader is a journalist.”
Thanks to Toby Marshan for drawing my attention to this blog.

Edit 2010-10-10: The BBC has just updated its online linking policy to repair some of the damage mentioned above, described in this Guardian blog post.

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