One of the pervasive myths of the modern world is that a newspaper article can somehow validate any idea or a supposed fact. If you think so as well, you could hardly be more mistaken. Careful analysis of modern newspapers reveals a terrifying fact: literally all articles, reports and editorials contain errors, ranging from minor mistakes and inconsistancies to blunders of mythic proportions.

One of the major prerequisites to seeing the errors with your own eyes is being familiar with the area discussed. No, strike out "familiar" - journalists need to be familiar, you need to be an expert or at least a semi-professional. Otherwise how could you notice that the article about Finland is illustrated with a photo from Stockholm?

If you are an expert in some field you have no choice but to be amazed at the richness and variation in the mistakes, exaggerations and outright lies that you can read in the newspapers. It became a cliche among computer geeks how clueless the press is when it comes to viruses, games or the Internet. What we don't realise is that the same level of competence is prevalent in all other areas as well.

I usually drop unconscious suffering from self-pity and inferiority complex when I realise that there is something I don't know about the topic I am writing (though I am a bit more relaxed writing online in places like E2). It looks like no journalist feels the same way. Dave Barry elegantly described the writing process in his Miami Herald column:

So the REPORTER and the EDITOR, who now hate each other even more than they already did, hastily slap a story together from memory, then turn it over to a GRAPHIC DESIGN PERSON who cannot actually read but is a wizard on the APPLE MACINTOSH, and who will cut any remaining accurate sentences out of the story to make room on the page for a colorful, "reader-friendly" CHART, which was actually supposed to illustrate a story in an entirely different SECTION.

It appears that the most common writing pattern for the majority of the journalists is to pick a topic, choose the angle they want to cover it from, formulate the conclusions and then pick up some catchy facts that support them. If the facts don't fit the story, creatively modify the facts. You can easily find facts and opinions to support any point of view whatsoever. But we are left at the mercy of the reporter in regards to their validity and trustworthiness. If the writer chooses the sources in order to better support his preconceptions or, worse, he is totally incapable of evaluating them, you can be sure that the end result will be as distorted as those funny mirrors.

Many people take the written word to be gospel truth, but you should know better. If it is in the newspaper, it must be wrong.

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