Saturday, December 01, 2012

Patronising MSM journalists hasten their own demise

Well, Sydney is baking and I’m grumpy and I have a pet detestation that fastens on journalists either waving the arse of their ignorance in the reader’s face, or treating the readers themselves like idiots in their desire to patronise.

There’s this special tone of voice, “I-know-something-you-don’t” (imagine it singsong “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!”), that journalists use when they think they’re educating their audience but are really just patronising the living daylight out of us.

Here’s a piece about battery technology research from the SMH. It’s lame in that kind of lameness that you get when the journalist fears any real science will turn off readers.

And especially lame is this:

“Batteries keep the lights on at night, and are perhaps the most surprising component of the otherwise high-tech array. Nestled among the coconut palms and shiny solar panels are bungalows containing 1344 giant lead-acid batteries weighing a combined 257 tonnes.”


“Tokelau's energy set-up may seem anachronistic…”

As some of you know, my wife and I operate a solar-powered set of holiday cottages, Bunjaree Cottages in Wentworth Falls. We don’t have 1,344 batteries – a more modest 36 is our kit, and there are humans out there who will contrive ways to suck them down from 54 V at 5pm to blackout at 6am (no mean feat: my family in December 2011, during a rain spell, managed three days without losing power).

So okay, I am familiar with lead-acid batteries and not in the least surprised, but neither should the Herald’s “carbon economy editor” (the invention of useless titles is one way once-were-warrior newspapers rage against the dying of the light), nor the Herald’s readers.

If you open the bonnet of your car – an anachronistic activity I know, but bear with me – you’ll find it packed with “anachronistic” hundred-year-old technology. The internal combustion engine, for a start; not to mention the lead-acid battery in a corner to give you a start in the morning. Kick the tyres and you’re kicking something from the 19th century, with enhancements, wrapped around improvements on wheels that even Pharoes had.

Now, I’ll grant that some of the story passes muster – although telling us that someone invented the vanadium redox battery, but not caring to describe it screams “out of depth reporter” to me (the science is easy to find on Google; essentially, it uses vanadium in two different solutions to store the charge).

I have found over decades behind the alphabet piano that mostly, you don’t need to patronise the reader – and in the world of the Internet, it’s an advantage not to. If the story is good, readers will find it, share it, pass it around – and you’ll get the hits. Is it better to seek out idiots, or to assume that it’s just as good to have the same number of informed, knowledgeable readers in front of the story?

I suspect a mindset is at fault: even as its readers flee, the old world of the newsroom believes itself party to privilege. It can’t shake the habits of “knowing something you don’t”, the keeper of the curtain who, for a suitable fee, will draw it back and give the audience a peek.

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