Pseudoscientific analysis. When reporters start probing for hidden messages in Obama’s signature, listening for stress in a pilot’s last communication, or revealing personality through posture, they’ve stopped reporting news and started running a psychic fair.
Have Your Say! When a news organization starts reporting comments from their Facebook page, broadcasting your tweets, taking unscientific viewer polls, and inviting you to “tell us what you think,” the producers don’t really care what you think. Instead, they’re hoping you’re too stupid to notice they don’t have enough real news to fill a single half-hour broadcast.
“Expert” guests with no skin in the game. Psychologists who spout diagnoses without ever having seen the patient. Ex-military officials who critique military decisions they couldn’t influence. So-called friends from a celebrity’s distant past, spouting insights into modern-day behaviors. Like the toothless guy running the weight-guessing booth down at the county carnival, if they’re right, they briefly look great … and if they’re wrong, no one remembers or cares.
Hollerin’ matches. When the conversation devolves into two people screaming talking points at each other, abandon any hope of achieving insight. All that screaming won’t inform or educate anyone, but it does have a purpose: it draws attention away from the fact that the hosts don’t know enough about the story to ask intelligent questions.
Opposing viewpoints from extreme minorities. Positioned as “fair and balanced” coverage, the practice of giving fringe beliefs equal time creates the illusion of debate where none really exists. Putting up one nut job paid by Big Energy to deny climate change against a scientist representing 98% consensus among the scientific community isn’t fair and balanced reporting; it’s just irresponsible.
Pointless live footage. Whether it’s Super Extreme Stormwatch 2 out getting video of a light rain or a reporter on the roadside speculating about what passing emergency vehicles might be up to, this kind of live coverage is not about the news — it’s about serving up banality disguised as news.
Branded stories. By the time a news organization gives a story a dramatic title (“Mystery of Flight 370!”), a glossy identity graphic, and a theme song, the story’s over … and the theater is open for business.
No follow-up questions. Real journalists do research. Real journalists ask awkward questions. Real journalists point out inaccuracies, spin, and lies. When reporters merely introduce guests and allow them to spout whatever unchallenged, unsubstantiated claims they like, they stop being journalists and start being puppets.
Headlines phrased as questions. Is Obama a secret Muslim? Will Obamacare bankrupt America? Have we found the cure for cancer? Does President Bush belong to a secret society that cavorts naked in the woods and occasionally sacrifices infants? It’s an old trick: when you don’t have any facts to report … make the headline a question. Betteridge’s Law of Headlines puts it this way: when a headline is a question, the answer is almost always “No.”
Any time Nancy Grace is on-screen. Enough said!