A news analysis
In one compound sentence the Associated Press on Saturday summarized so much of what is wrong with journalism today. Here is what the AP reported:
“Alaskans often take great pride in their toughness and resourcefulness and have been known to bandage their own wounds or use a staple gun to close a leg gash.”
When a news organization reports something so silly and hard to believe as unattributed fact, how can anyone be expected to believe anything else it reports?
Ignore the Alaska, tough-guy stereotyping. Overlook the fact that even as you read this there is likely someone Outside, as Alaskans call the other United States, engaged in the everday practice of “bandag(ing) their own wounds.”
Focus on the last part of the sentence:
“Someone…will use a staple gun to close a leg gash.”
Certainly, the phrase adds a new level to the legend of Alaska toughness, but as a practical matter, how does this supposed home-remedy work? How exactly does a staple-gun staple hold a wound together?
Staples and staples
Somewhere in Alaska, surely someone outside the medical profession has used a skin stapler instead of a butterfly bandage to close their own wound. (Hint to home medics: The latter is a lot less painful than the former unless you have access to anaesthetics. If you lack access to anaesthetics and plan to use a skin stapler, take some advice from someone who has been stitched up without anaesthesia: Work quick before the shock and numbing that follows the trauma wears off.)
A skin stapler isn’t, however, a staple gun. Not even close. A skin stapler is a properly sterile medical implement. A staple gun is a construction tool, and whether manual, electric, or pneumatic, it is designed to drive U-shaped, two-pronged metal fasteners into wood where friction holds them in place.
Wood is a hard material in which pointy fasteners stick. Skin is a soft material in which thin prongs do not hold well.
Anyone who has stuck herself with a pin or needle knows this. The pointy metal comes out as easily as it went in. This is one of the reasons the staples used in skin staplers are nothing like the staples used in a staple gun. These two types of staples have as much in common as motorcycles and unicycles; both of which are cycles.
Actually, a skin staple has more in common with a nose ring than it does a staple-gun staple. A skin staple wraps around a wound and pulls it together like a clamp.
Painful, painful, painful
The skin staple is more like the staple from a common desk stapler than that from a staple gun. Most people reading this know how such staplers work. The staple is pushed through papers and hits a steel plate below. The plate bends the staple closed to hold the papers together.
For a skin staple to work to hold a wound closed, it has to be similarly bent.
Maybe, a friend suggested, if you had a wound over your shin bone and pushed down hard enough on the staple gun to make the staple hit bone, you might be able to bend the ends or drive them, depending on what size the staple, into the bone itself where they’d likely hold.
Maybe. Might. Sure to hurt like hell if it worked.
And if anyone has had any experience with this medical technique in Alaska or elsewhere, it does not appear to have made the news. A Google search turned up quite a few stories about staple injuries, including one that shows what a staple looks like in someone’s hand (it doesn’t bend), and others warning of the danger of infections associated with accidentally stapling or nailing your body with common, unsterilized staples and nails
Suffice to say, there is no youtube guide to closing your wounds with a staple gun. There are, however, a variety of youtube videos on how to close a wound with a skin stapler. Here’s one from survivalists Dr. Bones and Nurse Amy of DoomandBloom.net.
Note that Dr. Bones warns you will need an assistant to help with stapling. Damn. Maybe it would be easier to sew yourself up with a piece of caribou gut like a real Alaskan.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking,” the late Gen. George S. Patton once observed.
In the case of journalism today, it sometimes seems no one is thinking, period. The suggestion that “Alaskans often take great pride in…(using) a staple gun to close a leg gash” is so stupid as to be almost funny if it was funny.
Is it possible that someone somewhere in Alaska once at least tried this even if no record of such a thing can be found? Sure. Alaskans do all sorts of nutty things, especially when drunk or stoned. But the nutty things they do when drunk or stoned, especially the nutty things that don’t work or just add to an injury, are not things in which they “often take great pride.”
But never mind that.
Simply consider the subliminal message, or the not so subliminal message, this sentence sends to readers familiar with staple guns, and there are a lot of Americans familiar with staples guns. The message is this:
These reporters don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
It’s kind of what a majority of Americans seem to think about journalists in general today.
These journalists don’t know what they hell they’re talking about.
Where the reporters who wrote this story got the staple idea is hard to imagine. Clearly they were improvising. They are experienced reporters and decent people. There is no reason to believe they meant any harm. They were obviously trying to write a story that would grab the attention of readers in order to get it read.
The later is commendable. All reporters should be working to write stories people are moved to read. Everything else is a waste of a reporter and editor’s time.
But journalists shouldn’t shoot themselves in the foot in the process. They shouldn’t leave readers thinking, journalists are foolish or naive or just trolling for internet “hits” or “traffic.”
Plenty of blame
But the reporters aren’t the only ones involved here. There are editors who are supposed to maintain some semblance of quality control.
Reporters write stupid shit with some regularity. This particular reporter has written more than his share. It happens. Editors used to filter out the nonsense so as to protect a news operation’s credibility. The filters appear to be gone.
The AP story is now popping up around the internet. It does not appear a single editor has had the sense to read the staple line and say, “this makes no sense; let’s just cut it.”
Sadly, because of this lack of oversight, a lot of stupid shit makes it online these days. And readers have noticed.
Some appear to have concluded much of the media is stupid shit.
A local editor once suggested someone could have a ton of fun with a website titled “Stupid Shit Reporters Write.” He hasn’t done it for fear of making journalism look bad. But journalism already looks bad.
Studies from the Pew Research Center have for years now tracked American frustrations with the media. “Pew Study: Americans Abandoning News Outlets, Citing Lower Quality,” Forbes headlined four years ago.
Despite such warnings, there is little indication news organization have tried to up their quality. In the last year alone, the list of Anchorage fumbles, some of which went national, is too long to list.
And yet the publishing of stupid shit continues without much thought.
“Consumers are sending a message: They want the same quality of news they’ve always known, not excuses, and they’ll punish news outlets that fail to meet that standard by taking their business elsewhere,” Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici wrote.
That’s one way of looking at it. But there are other ways of looking at it.
If you go into a restaurant and the food is bad, do you move on to a new restaurant to punish the old one or simply to find a decent meal? And if they’re all serving bad food, is the decision to just eat at home a form of punishment or a display of good judgment?
Sock it to me
Some journalists will take offense at this analysis. Some will dismiss the seriousness of the AP error. Other will likely get even more angry with the author because of his failure to act like a proper member of the club.
And journalism, at least in Alaska, has pretty much become a club. There is no critical coverage of the business in this state. There are few, usually not any, questions asked when glaring mistakes are made.
No one is held accountable. There is one standard for politicians and businesses and average citizens caught up in the news, and there is another for journalists. And this attitude is part of what has brought the business down in an age filled with a legion of quasi-journalists on social media and in the blogosphere.
What journalism offered readers and viewers a couple of decades ago was a higher quality of news than that proffered by someone met in a bar. Since then, bar talk has moved to social media and the difference between what is found there and journalism has narrowed.
Many journalists today scoff at these criticisms. Susan Glaser, the founding editor of Politico Magazine, posted a long essay on the Brookings Institute website where she points fingers in a whole bunch of directions. It’s worth a read even if Glaser doesn’t seem to get it.
“…The media scandal of 2016 isn’t so much about what reporters failed to tell the American public; it’s about what they did report on, and the fact that it didn’t seem to matter,” she writes. “Stories that would have killed any other politician—truly worrisome revelations about everything from the federal taxes (President Donald) Trump dodged to the charitable donations he lied about, the women he insulted and allegedly assaulted, and the mob ties that have long dogged him—did not stop Trump from thriving in this election year. Even fact-checking perhaps the most untruthful candidate of our lifetime didn’t work; the more news outlets did it, the less the facts resonated. Tellingly, a few days after the election, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “post-truth” had been chosen as the 2016 word of the year, defining it as a condition ‘in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.'”
What she missed is journalism’s role in diminishing the value of facts in the years leading up to this election. Bad reporting of real news opened the door for fake news. Truth suffered death by a thousand cuts. None of them were on their own fatal, but in the end they were enough to make many decide that they couldn’t really count on the media.
The media – local, state and national – opened the door for Trump’s campaign of personal belief: “Ignore the yammering from the know-nothings over there. I share your beliefs. Vote for me.”
What the media said became less influential, as Glaser observes, because the media spent years losing the public’s trust. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild that trust. It starts with reporters and editors at every level fixing the little everyday errors and working up from there because all the stupid shit reporters write screams out:
“These people aren’t professionals. These people never seem to get anything right. I can’t count on anything these people report.”