South Africa: Journalism 101 - Helen Zille Needs to Go Back to the Basics


There are a few basic steps we teach journalists to take before they try and cover science. The first is to go back to the original research report, not a second-hand press boil-down written by a hack who doesn't understand the field. Helen Zille used the boil-down.

We've all read them: the dramatic little "research says" snippets used by newspapers to fill space. "Asparagus may cause cancer," we're warned, or "Humans will grow webbed feet to deal with global warming". Such crude reductionism about research is often blamed on what's called the "juniorisation" of newsrooms (and that, in turn, is often a coded attack on demographic changes that critics of the press don't like). So, in an odd way, it's almost comforting to find that an extremely senior former journalist such as Helen Zille (no slouch when it comes to attacking the research credentials of Richard Poplak) made all the same basic errors when she tried to write about research.

In one of her attacks on Sanef's failed case against the EFF's press-baiting, Zille told us that "a famous academic experiment... proved an important point about the prevailing biases in certain publications".

She didn't name the experiment, possibly because it's...

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