Over the past few days, I've heard a lot of media-bashing from corporates, NGOs, government officials, school teachers and friends. They've been telling me that media just do not know what to do with the data that is presented to them. They either don't get it, or they don't know how to read it or they simply don't know how to use it. But hey, give us journalists a break. We are people too and we make the most of what we get, well, most of the time. While I am not defending the errors that creep into the stories while we analyse the data or simply quote it, here are a few situations that will help you realise why we make those mistakes. And you won't hate us all that much after you read this:
Guy wants to say something, writes something that means something else.
Reporter writes what the guy writes.
Guy says, "This is not what I wanted to say. You've misinterpreted the data."
Reporter tells him, "Well, I cannot get into your head. You've got to write what you want to say."
Reporter is handed over a sheaf of papers in a press brochure. They make little sense but there's a very interesting looking graph. The reporter tries to make sense of it. He's not good with numbers. He asks the PR for help. Even he doesn't know. "But, the graph's important," he tells the reporter. So here's a reporter trying to make sense of something he doesn't know quite well but is supposedly important. So he tries to get the best out of what he's got. He goes over the mumbo-jumbo until his eyes get locked on a figure. "Ah! That's the story!" Just in time for the deadline!
Reporter meets three different NGOs working on the same cause. They come up with three different sets of numbers for the same parameters. The reporter is confused. So he calls a government agency. They give him another set of figures. The differences aren't minor. So which one do you quote?
Situation four (Typically for press releases that are written in languages other than the language of the newspaper that the reporter writes for):
This could be tricky because names spelt in Devanagari would be spelt differently in English, Bengali, Chinese, etc. Abbreviations would be even more difficult to translate and quotes, well, they just get lost in translation.
The solution to this problem would be to offer a bit of clarity. While journalists love the way numbers pep up a story and make headlines, it would be nice if you would tell them what the numbers stand for and how they should be used. As for analysis or quotes, if you are too particular about how you want it written, you would rather write it your way instead of waiting for a journalist to interpret your thoughts.