Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Remember, it no longer counts as plagiarism unless you use exactly the same words

I had started out to write a post about the cable executive who described the rising cost of ESPN as a "tax on every American household," but when I went looking for source articles I noticed something strange. The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, and the rest all told the story in the same way, right down to the same omission of the role of over-the-air television (which is particularly relevant to a story about threats to cable's business model).

Don't worry, this is not another rabbit-ears story. What's significant here is that in a story about cable losing cost-conscious customers, none of the writers mentioned the tens of millions of people who were getting full digital television for free. Not only do journalists now tend to cover the stories from the same angles, they even omit the same important details.

This group-think is bad enough on its own, but when you combine it with an increasingly nonchalant attitude toward accuracy and fact-checking (here's one of many examples), the results can be dangerous.

Look at the debate over the Euro-crisis. Any number of virtually identical stories have appeared claiming that the crisis was started by the wild deficit spending of southern countries, implicitly or explicitly including Spain, despite the fact that Spain had been running a surplus before the crisis.

If journalists aren't bothering to think independently or check their facts when reporting on the Euro-crisis, what stories are important enough to justify their A-game?

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