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“Viva La Revolucion!”- Social Media; The New Yellow Journalism? May 3, 2012

Posted by Chris Mark in Industry News, Risk & Risk Management.
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In the late 19th Century, a phenomenon known as ‘yellow journalism’ took hold as newspapers battled for marketshare.  More specifically, it was the battle between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst which fostered the coining of the phrase.  At a high level, Yellow Journalism is defined as: “…a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers.[1] Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.”  In fact, Yellow journalism was blamed for the start of the Spanish American War.  In response, responsible journalists founded organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists (founded 1909) and developed codes of ethics and responsible reporting.  Today, responsible, professional journalists adhere to a code of ethics or canons which dictate that they will report the truth accurately.  As stated in the SPJ: “Seek Truth and Report It”.   While some bend the rules, most reporters are accurate and professional.

With the rise of “bloggers”(this author included) and other social media ‘experts’ could it be that we are seeing the rise of a new wave of ‘Yellow Journalism’?  There is little control over what bloggers write and say and, while protected as journalists, few (that I know of) are members of any professional organizations.  Granted, most bloggers do not have the reach of the NYT but even my own blogs have been read tens of thousands of times.  There is little to prevent a blogger from relaying gossip, false information or even fabricating a story to move the masses.  A good example of such a case, is the fake lesbian blogger of Damascus. While the GayGirl blog was supposedly  25 year old Amina Abdallah, an open  lesbian living in Damascus and describing life in the city during the revolution, it was actually a 40 year old, Tom McMaster, a Scottish (and male) PhD student pretending to be the person.  Who knows the actual impact the blog my have had.

Even business blogs are not immune.  I was reading two blog posts last night that caught my attention and were part of the catalyst for this post.  The first post outlines some piracy statistics statistics.  Specifically, that of the ships hijacked 26% were bulk carriers, and 15% were fishing vessels.  In the next post, the author (not identified), attempts to correlate the risk to fishing vessels as equal to those of bulk carriers.  As stated in the post: “There is no one universally appealing category of ship for pirates to target.  Statistically speaking, bulk carrier vessels are targeted slightly more often than other kind of ships, but pirates are almost just as likely to target fishing vessels.”  My response was WHAT?!  When comparing bulk carrier to fishing vessels, they are 73% MORE likely to be hijacked than fishing vessels.  This means that bulk carriers are almost twice as likely to be attacked as fishing vessels.  This does not suggest “Indiscriminate Attacks” as the author states.   To give the benefit of think doubt, I will assume the posts were not intended to mislead.  After reviewing the sentence structure, grammar and syntax, it appears that the writer is likely a junior level employee with a very limited grasp of statistics and Maritime Security. Unfortunately, for those shipping companies reading the post, the effect is the same.  They may be led to believe that fishing vessels are attacked as frequently as bulk carriers.

While we likely all read blogs, newsletters and the odd Facebook “forward if you really (insert here…Love Jesus, Love Mohammad, Hate School, etc.)”, it is important to read closely as the 21st century is once again showing the rise of yellow journalism.

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