Saturday, February 3, 2007

To Watch the News or Not Watch the News... That is the Question.

To paraphrase Mr. Lennon, "I watched the news today, oh boy".

For the past while I've been actively avoiding watching the news. This isn't to say that I don't get my fill of news - I just use rss feeds and the web to give me better, more timely and more accurate news directly rather than getting caught up in the farce that has become TV news.

Foolishly, I decided to watch the news last night during dinner. Within the first 5 minutes I found out that Vancouver was on the brink of disaster because of an impending earthquake - due to hit next week.

Well, needless to say, I felt terrible. Since I only had a week to live, I thought I'd perhaps spend a few minutes finding out when specifically the 'big one' was due to hit. That's when I found this direct quote from Garry Rogers, one of the the siesmologists at the heart of the story:

"Everyone drives their car every day, and the probability of getting in a car accident is small," Dr. Rogers said. But during rush hour, the probability of getting into an accident is much higher. Well, Vancouver Island is now driving in rush hour."

Well there you have it.... rush hour traffic. But that is not quite the notice of panic I received from the TV news. Quite to the contrary, this was the lead story. Here are some direct quotes from the actual news story:

"A major earthquake could hit the south coast in the next week or the very least, pack an emergency kit and keep it with you at all times".


But wait - it gets better. I went to the actual source of the report - the Pacific Geoscience Centre and followed the link to Earthquakes Canada ( and and the actual report says:

The predicted Episodic Tremor and Slip (ETS) event for southern Vancouver Islad is now underway. These events occur roughly every 14 months, and typically continue for a period of about 2 weeks.

The current Episodic Tremor and Slip event is progessing in a similar fashion to previous events, and moving northward along Vancouver Island. Please note:
1. this event is "normal" in the sense that it happens roughly every 14 months, and this event is no diferent than others that have occurred in previous years.
2. That the probability of a major quake at this time is still very low.

Let me pull some quotes there:

  • ...predicted

  • ...progressing in a similar fashion to previous events.

  • ...happens every 14 months.

  • diferent (sic) than others that have occurred in previous years

  • ...the probability of a major quake at this time is still very low.

The sad part is, I'm sure there are grandmothers in Hope and Chilliwack heading down to the Canadian Tire right now to buy there required emergency kit and calling for quotes to build their emergency earthquake shelter. Now, obviously being prepared is a good thing(tm), but scaring people into having unreasonable amounts of fear for the risks involved is not. I'm not a seismologist, so the only way I have to evaluate the risk to me is by what the seismologists are saying.. and that is that the current risk is still very low.

The only way we will change the TV news industry is if we stop supporting bad reporting.


  1. Bad reporting sells papers and puts asses in seats, my friend. I honestly don't feel that TV is any better or worse than any other medium - it's just more immediate. I don't know what gives people the idea that "the news" is the last word on anything, but fortunately they tend to have short memories.

    Because hey, if it were important it would be in the news.

  2. Of course you are right. TV is no worse than tabloid newspaper's for sure. The problem is TV is ubiquitous. Plus, and don't get me wrong - I have no idea about media and their relative profit margins - but it would seem that TV news(especially local TV news) still has the budget to be respectable. Here is an industry that once stood on integrity and journalistic quality and now is racing itself to the very lowest yardstick - ratings.

    It's easy to say this that the industry is just 'giving people what they want' - but that is horseshit. This is journalism. Have some integrity already - this isn't about ratings.

    Newspapers have their own issues - blogs becoming pseudo-journalistic websites is another issue - but on the issue of TV news there is no excuse. From Fox News, to CNN, to every local news channel there is nothing out there with integrity. At least in newspapers you have the Washington Post - in TV what do you have? CBC Newsworld?

    Hell, I'm thinking English Al Jazeera is the closest we get to an unbiased point of view.