If it walks like a dog

Jason Krupp
Insights Newsletter
13 May, 2016

The first rule of journalism is that “dog bites man” is not news. But “man bites dog” is worth a news story, an editorial demanding government do something about it, and an in depth feature exploring the motivations of the biter.

The second less well-known rule of journalism is that if all you have is “dog bites man”, then shave the dog, slap a pair of trousers on it, and encourage it to bite.

Then there’s some stuff about objectivity, fairness and balance as I recall from my days at journalism school, but that was a long time ago and I’m not sure it still holds.

Don’t believe me about rule one and two?

Well, consider a recent story in the Herald which claimed that nearly 60% of homes sold to foreigners in the last three months went to Chinese investors. For race baiting politicians, it must have seemed like all their dreams had come true. But when you dig into the figures it turns out foreigners only accounted for 474 of the 12,000 house sales that took place in the three-month period under review.

And if attacking New Zealand’s favourite pastime of foreigner shaming were not enough, the media has also shaved the sausage dog. That is to say recent reports claimed that eating processed meat could increase the chance of contracting colorectal cancer by 17%.

The big-C is no joke, and neither is a 17% increase, until you look at the chance of contracting colorectal cancer in the first place. According to the Centre for Disease Control, a 40 year old American man has a 0.26% chance getting this type of cancer in the next 10 years. A diet heavy on sausages and bacon bumps that up by 0.0442%.

When you put it this way the extra rasher at breakfast starts to look less and less like a painful death sentence.

It would be ridiculously naïve to expect the media to stop repackaging dogs as men. This is particularly so in an environment where the industry is in major consolidation mode, and this kind of content is cheap to produce. The onus instead falls on the reader to be critical. If it walks like a dog, barks like a dog, ignore the trousers, it’s a dog.

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