Another little journalism secret

Another little journalism secret

Here’s a little tip for reading any news article or magazine story. It’s a sign of the author’s writing laziness if you see this sentence: “In fact, if you type (some word or phrase) into the Google search engine, ten million results show up in 0.11 seconds.” First, such a search proves nothing, especially as the search term becomes more general. If I search for “diversity” on Google, not all of the results will be about the politically correct ideology. Many instances could be about a company’s diverse product line. Hundreds of thousands more could be about other … diverse … topics.

Even with names, the number of results proves nothing. If I enter “Bill Simon” into Google, I get 2,290,000 results. But that includes any page that has the words “bill” and “simon” anywhere n the same page, not necessarily together. In other words, it means most of those pages are not about the former California gubernatorial candidate. If I enter the name enclosed in quotes, which forces it to search only on the complete name, the results narrow somewhat to 57,700. Even then, not all of them are about the politician.

Aside from the number of results, the fact that something shows up a lot in Google doesn’t mean anything as far as its newsworthiness or importance or impact on society is concerned. That’s like determining how many times a particular word or phrase appears in all the books in the library, whether they’re children’s books or tomes on economics and saying that this number is significant, absent any context.

It goes back to the problem with research studies reported as news fact. Correlation doesn’t mean causation. If the majority of people in insane asylums like “The Simpsons”, it doesn’t mean “The Simpsons” makes you crazy.

But if journalists rely on these fillers to write their stories, it does mean they’re lazy.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli

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