I completely agree with you.

As someone who worked in a newsroom for eight years and have been working home office for some big digital papers outlets the last year, all I can say is that the volume of news we have to publish is huge comparing to the amount of journalists working (in Brazil. But it's probably the same in anywhere's newsroom). It's not a defense, I hate when I have to do that. Most of the days, we get the stories we have to write about, but the source does not replies in time (24 hours or less – it's common to have a couple of hours to finish) and if that story is not the major one, the special one, we copypasta and move to the next story. If we don't do it, we don't get traffic. The lack of information such as the name of a scientific article or the issue is laziness, bad journalism or "trying to clean the text" so people can read it quickly. Or all this reasons combined.

Second thing I wanted to comment, you figured out the newsroom culture in this phrase: "they dissemble in order to appear more authoritative than they actually are". There's this idea of we-should-not-link-to-anywhere-outside-our-website to ensure the reader is not leaving your page – actually, you insert links to your own website. Why are we still thinking like this in newsrooms? I don't know, I blame the elders, the directors, the owners of newspaper, that only see an empty metrics (and always quantitative) such as pageviews. Sometimes, if you mention the "indirect competitor" such as independent media outlets or smaller newspaper, you get it removed or changed by the editor, because there is pressure to... perform authoritative.

I can talk about newsroom culture and good and bad journalism for hours, and I haven't even runned out everything I could say about your great piece, but I'll stop here because it's already huge, haha.

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I was a journalist for the biggest newspaper in Brazil (Folha de S.Paulo) for eight years. There has always been formal guidance for journalists to identify the source of quotes and to make it clear how that quote was obtained. You have to say something like "'In an interview with the Guardian, neuroscientist Erik Hoel claims that 'dreams have a Lynchian quality'". In the past, we had to specify whether the interview was done by email, because that was considered worse and lazier than an interview over the phone, or in person.

It turns out that nowadays journalism is basically over. There is no way to compare the quality of newspapers today with the quality of these same newspapers a mere 15 years ago. The newsrooms are empty, everyone has been fired, so the few people left don't have time to do journalism. What they do is mostly condense internet content. Each newspaper has only a handful of journalists who continue to do their own reporting and a dozen editors who just look things up on the internet and rewrite stuff.

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It would be good to hear from someone on the inside of one of these media-of-record places; what is it really like to create these stories? The image portrayed in films like "The Soloist" or "Hitch" are undoubtedly out of date, but for most people, are probably what they think of first when they imagine a journalist's average workday. But would anyone on the inside really want to divulge what the job is actually like, and in so doing strip their own career of credibility?

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I received my journalism degree back in 1999 and had the honor of being taught by the former managing editor of the Detroit Free Press. He was very candid about how the industry was changing with the advent of the Internet, but his even bigger concern was the rise of the anonymous source. There was a time when quoting anonymously was only reserved for those situations where the individual was in danger of losing their life. Anything else went on the record or didn't get printed. He was right because now it's standard practice and these sources are completely unverifiable. They are known only as, "an anonymous source who was not given permission to speak publicly on the matter". Between that problem and the problem you're describing there is zero accountability for corporate media today, and when anyone tries there is a cabal of lawyers ready and waiting.

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Aug 3, 2022·edited Aug 3, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

"It’s only a lie of omission..."

Technically yes, but it's actually worse.

Giving the copypasta producers the benefit of the doubt, one might say that they have read the quotes elsewhere showing that the quoted person (eg EH) said such-and-such so, therefore, to say '"Blah blah blah," said Erik Hoel...' is accurate reporting.

Except it's not.

It's only accurate reporting if they have checked that (a) EH actually gave those quotes in the first place and (b) they were correctly reproduced.

Of course the "journalists" at these prestige publications do no such thing: they do not do their basic fact checking.

In my days as a journalist in local and national newspapers in the UK (in the 80s and 90s) that would have been considered unacceptable.

At the very least the journalist should acknowledge their use of a second-hand source by writing something to the effect of '"Blah blah blah," Erik Hoel reportedly said in an interview with XYZ.'

As for the lack of citation, you've hit the nail on the head when you say they don't want to include any links that will take readers away from their website.

The former practice puts sloppiness and laziness ahead of good journalism; the latter puts commercial considerations ahead of good journalism. Neither practice deserves to be associated with the word "journalism" at all.

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I think the issue is that there are no consequences for the phenomena you describe so well.

Maybe there should be a 501c3 sub stack that does nothing but review articles in the few prominent daily newspapers to call out instances of shoddy or inaccurate reporting/writing.

I bet there'd be a lot of subscribers.

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This is a great and important piece, thank you! However I think comment sections are a different issue entirely - many large news organisations removed comments specifically because they were unable to effectively moderate them and they quickly and consistently filled up with just the worst, most abhorrent, bottom-of-the-internet-barrel takes.

I actually think this is another reason why the shift to more independent reporting via places like substack is good - writers are able to build and maintain their own communities and moderation, and because there’s generally less chance of every single article getting a lot of views, there’s less motivation for people to leave terrible, rise-baiting comments in the comment section.

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What you said.

I started noticing the practice "thanks to" Google Now (or Feed or whatever it's called this days). It would suggest the same articles. Except that they're not the same articles, they just use the same sources that they never mention nor credit.

Worse, it has happened to me at least twice (by one of the biggest French newspapers, and an biggish internet publication) and it's pretty enraging. Especially, because my blog is a very small one about a very small niche (a rural part of Japan), except that I'm one of the few sources in English and the only one in French. But giving credit to their source was too much to ask apparently.

I think one of the issues of these guidelines news publications give to their writers are because of SEO. Linking to an external source is basically promoting that external source to Google (I'm old enough to remember when this is how the web worked, you linked to other stuff), so they don't want to do that.

Sure, I get it. But not naming the source (no need to link to it) is dishonest.

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This has always bugged me, and I’m so glad you’ve bought attention to it. I’m a university student and dabble in student journalism writing film reviews and opinion pieces. I have no formal journalistic training, yet most of these things just feel like defaults to me? I wrote a piece on British housing insulation policy (totally wonkish) and referenced everything with links to studies etc., working with my editor to do so, none of us being paid. Similar article on the Guardian was similarly untraceable to this. Wild that student journalism is meeting higher standards in some regards than prestige publications, but you’re right — set the writers free...

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I have been begging my husband to write this article. Yes. Exactly this.

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Aug 4, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

I'm going to be the sole optimist in this thread and note that an article today on the Guardian is a lot better (maybe they got a lot of negative feedback on the serotonin article): https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/aug/04/florida-sea-turtles-female-global-heatings

It's not perfect (the teaser paragraphs say it's according to 'experts' and 'scientists') but it gets better lower down, quoting specific period, saying where they got their quotes from (CNN and Reuters) and linking externally.

Wider point: I agree there's a lot wrong with modern journalism, but I don't agree with the hopeless cynicism I see a lot in this space. I don't think it's the case that Google analytics has necessarily and permanently doomed news, even if we're struggling with the outcomes now. After the printing press was invented, there was a profusion of millenarian pamphlets being printed; we figured out how to deal with that eventually.

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When I read something I imagine is lifted I select the most convoluted portion of the sentence and put it in quotes. If scientific I add inurl to Google and search Google scholar. The quotes mean exact and Google will often find the source. Not perfect but pretty good. Love copypasta!

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Years ago -- decades before social media -- I spent a week at Smith Rocks, climbing. My group ended up making friends with a photographer and a reporter from the Hartford Courant newspaper. My overwhelming impression of them was of their integrity. They wanted to present, as best as they could, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They would, of course, be the first to admit that they often failed to meet that standard, but that was the standard they held themselves to.

There was no intent to impress. We just talked while belaying or when sharing meals. Their integrity remains with me, thirty years later.

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I can say alittle something about this issue, having worked in a few digital publications (though they were magazines focused on "content" rather than "news," with very cozy ties to advertisers). We embedded hyperlinks as a rule, less to empower readers than to get boosts from search engines (linking to elsewhere in the Internet improves SEO). It's strange: you'd think that news sites would want the SEO boost for their articles, but maybe they'd prefer the illusory prestige of seeming to stand alone against their peers.

In one local news start-up project, I monitored a governor's office and linked directly to their official announcements. I felt like a bullhorn for a mouthpiece but it only made sense to include the source for anyone who wanted it without our site's context, especially since I was reporting on evolving COVID-19 policies from the state.

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Aug 3, 2022·edited Aug 3, 2022Liked by Erik Hoel

Great piece, thanks Erik.

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