Scary Ideas and Lazy Journalism

April 3, 2015 § 6 Comments

Last week, the New York Times published another in a depressing series of articles in the print media about how colleges and universities are allegedly catering to sensitive-little flower millennials, who cannot handle big ideas that challenge their deeply-held beliefs, and how, instead, they seek to create ‘safe spaces’ all across campus, where they won’t come into contact with big, scary ideas.  I can never get through one of these articles without seething.  See, I am a professor.  That means I work and teach on a university campus.  I come into daily contact with these millennials.  And I’ve come to despise generational stereotypes about them, as much as I despised the stereotypes applied to my generation twenty years ago.  The stereotypes are largely similar: apathetic, self-centred, self-obssessed, etc.  And, just as they were a ridiculous accusation against Gen X, the same is true of millennials.

The larger problem with these kinds of articles is that they are written by journalists looking for sensation, and supported by their editors looking for clickbait (hey, look, Ma! I used the term ‘clickbait’ in successive posts).  These articles are drive-by smearings of academe (not that there aren’t a lot of problems within the system, but journalists aren’t interested in them, because they don’t generate headlines), written without bothering to understand how the academy works, how ideas are exchanged, and how we professors work to challenge and destabilize commonly-held beliefs, even if we agree with them ourselves.

Take, for example, the story of a course at Arizona State University called “US Race Theory and The Problem of Whiteness.”  FoxNews host Elizabeth Hasselbeck attacked the course, after talking to a student at ASU.  The problem was that the student Hasselbeck talked to wasn’t enrolled in the class, and she herself never bothered to talk to the professor.  No, instead, Hasselbeck instead ranted about the problems with this kind of course, in predictable fashion.  This led the professor of the course to doxxed and to receive death threats.

But back to the Times article.  I was going to write a strongly-worded riposte to it here, but my wife beat me to it.  So, instead, I point you, gentle reader, over to Margo’s blog, as she says what I wanted to say in a much better fashion.

Bad Journalism: A textbook case

January 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

On Saturday, Montréal’s left-wing, nationalist French-language daily, Le Devoir, published a rather simple-minded article about a series of homophobic attacks that have occurred lately in Montréal’s Gay Village.  A series of assaults last weekend came on the heels of several others in Fall 2013.  This has left many in the Village feeling unsafe.  The Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, not surprisingly, refuse to see a connection between a series of attacks on gay men and homophobia.  Plus ça change, I suppose.  Amazingly, while people in the village are feeling unsafe, Vincent Richer, the commander of Station 22 in the Village, claims that the neighbourhood is safe and secure.

But then there’s the article.  It talks about the fringe characters of the neighbourhood, the ones in shadows, the homeless, the drunks, drug addicts, etc.  And then there’s the usual drunken frat boys who like to show off how enlightened they are by heading downtown into the Gay Village to call people names.  As an aside, a funny story: back in the day in Vancouver, I was sitting outside at the Fresgo Inn, an all-night greasy spoon in the West End, on Davie St., that’s long since gone.  Next door was a café, with all of these big, huge, hot gay men on the patio.  A bunch of meatheads started calling them names.  It did not end well for the meatheads, they got beaten pretty good for their efforts. And that being Vancouver, the police, after reprimanding the neighbourhood guys for getting violent, arrested the meatheads for creating a disturbance.

Le Devoir also set a team of journalists into the Gay Village one night last week, as if they were heading out into Whitechapel, London, on the trail of Jack the Ripper.  Seriously, the article reads like a horrible anthropology paper.  But then, as my friend Anna Sheftel pointed out on Facebook, the paper proceeds to insinuate that the hate crimes on gay men is being perpetrated by the homeless, drunks, and drug addicts (the frat boys get forgotten).  As if, to paraphrase Anna, all violence is the same, as if all marginalised groups are the same.  As she notes, the LGBT community has a disproportionate number of homeless, especially youth, even in a place like the Gay Village.

All in all, this is horrible, bush league journalism from a newspaper that should, and usually does know better.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with bad journalism at Matthew Barlow.