Recent research has concluded that only a small number of readers make it through to the end of a news article. This suits most newspapers who can present misleading and misinterpreted data as sensational news stories, but cover themselves with a caveat in the final paragraphs.
Examples this week include the Daily Express, “Drinking three cups of coffee a day could be key to beating Alzheimers disease”. This concludes with a statement from the head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, that this is a small study and while intriguing “the results do not show that caffeine can prevent the condition”. In the Daily Mail we had, “Autism could be triggered by very low doses of anti-depressants or other chemicals found in water supply”, followed up much later in the article with “There’s simply not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions.”
The Mail and the Express may be easy targets for criticism, but the Telegraph were among many news agencies this week who jumped on the scaremongering statement that children who undergo CT head scans triple their risk of developing a brain tumour or leukaemia. This headline is based on research, stated further down in the article, which suggests that for every 10,000 children under 10 who have a head scan, there is one extra case of each of these diseases. Bearing in mind that CT scans are mostly used to check for potentially serious internal injuries, it’s difficult to argue that this small increase in risk outweighs the benefits of the scan.
Do the British public have themselves to blame for accepting such drivel? With many of us not prepared to pay more than 20p for a daily newspaper, can we expect quality journalism and do we want it? Our best selling papers and magazines only confirm the British public’s insatiable thirst for sensation and celebrity gossip. It appears that people are more interested this week in the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite shoes and Madonna’s manky toenails, (both covered in the Express and Mail), than the truth behind the causes of autism.
Newspapers are full of stories copied from press releases and wire stories without any form of background checks or research, (a practice known as churnalism), This is obviously a quick and cheap way of obtaining stories along with other dodgy practices like phone hacking, which meets a demand in the market.
So, we get what we pay for, but we should read the small print carefully – unless it comes with pictures of Madonna’s fungus infested nails.