Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Shattered glass

In a bid (how's that for journalese?) to get back into a journalistic mindset after my holiday, I've just watched a DVD of Shattered Glass, in which New Republic reporter Stephen Glass is painfully and gradually exposed as a liar who makes up contacts and stories. I've seen this film before but this time the manic Preppie playing Stephen Glass was almost too painful to watch. And the central question is never answered. Why didn't any of the deskloads of staff (this was the 1990s, so there were still staff) notice what was going on? So much for the layers of US-style fact checking and shots of journalists covering each others' copy with vindictive red pen. If the rival online news website could check out the "facts" that Glass supplied in his copy and discover they crumbled on investigation, why couldn't the editors at the New Republic?

Back to the PhD research.


  1. I was wondering about much the same thing while reading the generally excellent Ben Goldacre - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/15/bad-science-lipobond-asa-express - this morning. What he hasn't yet offered a view on is how much research journalists ought to be doing; how they spot stories without relying on crap press releases from people with something to sell. How much time does it take to get a decent semi-academic understanding of the reliability of a piece of plausible evidence before you have to write about it? And is the ideal image he's presenting of a journalist single-mindedly seeking to understand a specific subject a realistic picture of anyone's job?

  2. Thanks for the comment, Martin - and the tweet telling me it related to my blog about ethnography (August 14) so it all made sense! I totally agree - journalists need to find a story quickly so they're always vulnerable to the quick fix of the press release. And unless they're specialists, they're not going to have the time, contacts or inclination to get a detailed knowledge of particular sectors. And unfortunately, as margins are squeezed, some managers are starting to see specialist correspondents as an expendable luxury..