After reading all these bogus trend stories, I think I will be much more attentive when I come across one of these in the news. I was surprised as to how many established and reliable newspapers fell for the lies of various government organizations. It’s easy for reporters to attribute information to a spokesperson or “expert” without double-checking whether it’s true. I suppose when the information is coming from someone else’s lips, reporters seem to think it’s not their fault if it’s not true. Skimming through these stories, I made a list of words, phrases, etc. that should raise a red flag in stories about trends.
1. The use of confidential sources, especially on issues that aren’t particularly serious. If the source refuses to be named, it might be because they don’t want the spotty information attributed to them. This is seen in the shoplifiting story by The New York Times.
2. Many: What does this word even mean? One of the first lessons we learned in Reporting is to avoid this ambiguous, meaningless word like this. One person’s “many” could be another person’s “few.” If a reporter can’t get a number or percentage, he or she shouldn’t use the word.
3. May/seem: This word, like “many,” means nothing in the world of news. There’s a lot of things that “may” happen, but they don’t make the paper because they haven’t indeed happened yet.
4. Curious numbers and statistics: If a story relies completely on one study or one source for its numbers and statistics, an editor should be careful. When faced with numbers and statistics, I ask myself, “do these numbers add up/make sense?”
I think what happens a lot of times is reporters are assigned to “go see if the economy makes people do this or that,” and they may find a few statistics to back up that it’s true, and a few people who are prime examples, and they deem it a trend. But you can’t let a few people represent an entire population. You can’t let a few numbers stand for the behavior of an entire nation.