Sunday, November 23, 2008

How Journalism Works.

The Daily Telegraph has a story headlined:
Reptiles now more popular pets than dogs
Judging from personal experience this doesn't seem likely, I know a lot of dog owners but very few reptile owners. There don't seem to be many products aimed at reptile owners available in supermarkets as there are for dogs. So what is the Telegraph basing their report on:
Calculations by the British Federation of Herpetologists (BFH).....
A herpetologist is someone who studies Amphibians & Reptiles. The BFH appears to have a very small web presence, and most of their appearances are in the capacity of promoting reptiles as pets, so I'm guessing that they are an industry group who want to promote the sale of reptiles as pets.

No newspaper will simply print a story saying "Reptiles Make Great Pets" because that isn't news, but if you hire a PR agency and they publicise a "study" which makes a startling and newsworthy claim the newspapers will lap it up and the reptile sellers will be quoted on what great pets they make. After all rehashing press releases is easier than actually reporting.

With this in mind I'm hoping I can get this published in the newspaper next week:
A study recently commissioned by the Blogging Research Council has revealed that regular readers of Unenlightened Commentary are now more numerous than readers of the Sun and the Bible, when asked to comment on why this is the president of the council, Ross F, speculated that it might be because Unenlightend Commentary had been shown to cure AIDs as well as improving readers' sex lives and granting them the ability to speak Mandarin. He added that prominent readers such as the Dalai Lama and Paris Hilton had also increased the blog's profile.

He didn't provide any evidence for any of his claims, and the BRC doesn't appear to actually exist, but he did save us the burden of actually reporting as well as providing a feeble excuse to print a picture of a scantily clad female celebrity in the news section.
Well I've provided as much evidence for my claims as the British Federation of Herpetologists has.


Blognor Regis said...

Field research: I've never seen anyone taking their snake for a walk over at the park.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ross, with a couple of logical leaps, the original headline is correct. Look at the facts:

1. A lot of people like dogs and have dogs as pets. These 'pets' shit all over the place, bark annoyingly and bite and generally terrorise other people especially children.

2. Therefore, it's probably true to say that dogs are the least popular pets ... among people who don't own a dog.

3. What sort of bad reputation do reptiles have with none reptile owners? Probably none. I have no idea which of my neighbours has a reptile in the house and I don't care. Therefore reptiles are not unpopular with non-reptile owners.

So to make the headline make sense you change it to ... "Reptiles less unpopular pets [with non reptile owners] than dogs [are with non-dog owners]".

James Higham said...

Herpetologist? Isn't that someone who studies venereal diseases?

Ross said...

"I've never seen anyone taking their snake for a walk over at the park."

I don't know about that, there's a man in a trenchcoat who hans around my local park offering to show children his mamba, although I've never actually seen it myself.

"Isn't that someone who studies venereal diseases?"

Only if the patient has been shagging reptiles.