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Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Japan quake wall of shameful journalism: are you on it?

Last week I wrote a piece for The Media Blog about Fox News' hilarious blunder in having included a trendy night club in central Tokyo on a map of nuclear reactors in Japan. 

But examples of poor journalistic practice may not always amuse, especially when they can dramatically influence the public's sense of vulnerability or distort perception of a delicate reality, as in the case of Japan's recent earthquake. 

Andrew Woolner, a former IT worker resident in Yokohama, was so appalled by the poor reporting on the earthquake and its aftermath causing unnecessary panic among foreigners in Japan, he felt compelled to create a black list called "The Journalist Wall of Shame", as he explains in his blog

The wiki invites contributors to name and shame the worst offenders among the world's media organisations for their sensationalist or misleading coverage.

Earlier this week its bad journalism list had received at least 180 (unedited) entries from the US, UK, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy. A separate section Woolner subsequently added for good journalism had 34 entries at the time of writing.

Woolner's original idea was to gather only a few examples of particularly bad journalism with his friends on Twitter and make individual complaints. He told me by email:
"I never thought it would get so big"
Below are three examples of poor/sensationalist journalism from the UK that have been entered on the shaming list:
  1. The Sun: Starving Brit Keely: My nightmare trapped in City of Ghosts – Tokyo -the headline says it all. Starvation? Zombies? Ghost Town? Pleeeeze.
  2. The Star: Rosie DiManno's No Escape Valve for So Much Grief - nauseatingly and gratuitously melodramatic, and condescending towards the Japanese. 
  3. The Mail Online: UN predicts nuclear plume could hit US by Friday... Starts with mentions of "terrified passengers packing Tokyo airport" and predictions that the toxic plume would "head into Southern California [...], Nevada, Utah and Arizona" only to later contradict itself by stating that the US Nuclear Regulator Commission had said "it expected no harmful levels of radiation would reach the U.S. from Japan".
Even the data visualisation in Randall Munroe's Radiation Dose Chart, although well-intentioned, doesn't help contain the panic many are experiencing from possible exposure to harmful levels of radiation. Compare it to this chart by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, or Tokyo Electric Power Company's, which provide a similar visualisation – in context.

For us, living outside Japan and looking in through the tinted glasses of western media, it is difficult to gauge the real mood of those who are inside. 

Judging from the exasperated anti-media messages I have been seeing on Facebook from expats living in Japan, I fear the reality may differ significantly from what has been reported in the press. One of my personal friends, an American currently working in Tokyo, wrote on his Facebook 'wall': 
"No disrespect to the people that have left - but this is turning into a farce. I hope somebody holds the media responsible when it finally fizzles out."
Woolner deserves accolade for doing exactly that – holding journalists to account – but he is realistic about what his "Wall of Shame" can achieve.
"I don't think the work we've done will necessarily make a big difference, but If we can at least get people to start being aware of the problem, maybe there's hope."
Being ethnically Japanese and having lived in Japan for many years, I admit to having, at times, allowed strong emotions to cloud over my objectivity while watching events unfold in the country the past few weeks. But the journalist in me agrees that, as in any other profession, we should never forget the lasting impact the quality of our work will have on any community, large or small.

As Woolner said:
"Bad journalists [...] are like bad doctors [...], bad soldiers, and bad firemen [...]; they make the world a worse place to live in."
If you would like to help the victims of the earthquake in Japan, please click on this this link, where you will find a list of organisations (scroll to the end of that page) you can donate to in your geographical area. Andrew Woolner, as promised!

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