Monday, August 14, 2006

Say “ah” the Reuters way!

Joan, a freelance writer living in Israel has cited an example of the ubiquity of the engineering of news: her editor at Reuters Medical information group wanted her to spin a medical story into a political one.

“When you’re pitching story ideas, you normally have 5 to 10 of them – instead they wanted me to cover something that really wasn’t a medical story at all.”
The only choice she felt comfortable with was to step away:
One of the reasons I stopped freelancing for Reuters medical Web site: Instead of doing a story about a massive Israeli hospital drill or the discovery of a new drug platform, Reuters wanted me to write about Israel restricting ambulances with pregnant and or sick women and children inside from entering Israel.
She notes that she could sense no specific plans or intent behind this editorial stance. We have seen this in often enough before – it seems more like the expression of a near universal application of attitudes on top of the news among the sort of folks that gravitate to working in the media. Since many don’t see this sort of information product as “hard news” they take liberties with sound reporting practices, or are showing their frustration with being a secondary tier branch of an information organization.

Moreover, by doing this to break up their own boredom or sense of inferiority, it’s taking column space and attention away medical news reporting. It forces the intended audience to navigate more than just advertising and stories motivated by product placement to get to the substance.
I tried to explain to the editor the reasoning behind this -- that on occasion, that bombs placed under these people were meant for being smuggled and exploded into Israel. She said no, to use her angle and to forget the "other reason" for this. In other words, never mind the truth.
Geared principally toward medical professionals and the more serious consumers (in other words, people with serious medical problems,) the site welcomes you with this display of wishful thinking:
“Reuters Health (RH) is the world's leading provider of medical and healthcare news. Reuters Health news services are internationally recognized as unbiased, authoritative, timely and dependable, with the reputation for quality that one expects from a Reuters company.”
That attitude: the lack of balance that spins news is taking any and all other areas of information with it. Imagine looking for further reading on a medical condition that you’re dealing with only to find political propaganda. If this isn’t a case of preying on the weak, I don’t know what is.

You would think that the operators of sector-specific information sources as outsiders to the politicized core of the ‘newsdrome’ that one would find freedom to take an deeper and more arcane interest in that area – in this case in medicine. One would imagine that they would not have to deal with the dramas as well – instead we find wannabees popping up over and over.

The imperiousness of that sort of editor of the less glamorous corners of an organization is also shown in the usual predictable ways too – they always seem to pay freelancers late. It’s not hard to see how they can probably take the calls from writers trying to track down unpaid invoices as a stroke toward their own aspirations of being something that they aren’t.

They have also opened themselves up to manipulation by the parties at war in ways we’ve seen before. One that they don’t have the experience to defend themselves from, even if, unprompted, they want to do it for one side in a confict.

Canada’s National Post reports on an example that couldn’t have come from a trade sector of the information business, but from a news division, and when it isn’t in the ‘spin cycle’ at that:
The surgeon led a group of journalists over what remained [of his hospital in Tyre]: ‎mangled debris, shredded walls and a roof punched through by an Israeli shell. "Look ‎what they did to this place," Dr. Fouad Fatah said, shaking his head. "Why in the world ‎would the Israelis target a hospital?" The probable answer was found a few hours later in ‎a field nearby. Hidden in the tall grass were the burned remnants of a rocket-launcher.
Where that story belongs is clear. That it doesn’t belong in what amounts to the health supplement is also quite clear to the public, but not all that clear to an information industry that is growing increasingly disconnected with their readership, and with reality itself.the fuse is lit!

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