In a Facebook group for freelance journalists where people ask for contacts or for pointers to people to interview, a journalist asks

for a story in a national newspaper I am looking for people who stopped using Air B&B (sic) because of the big negative sides (tourists damaging your stuff, logistics around transferring keys, people not paying)

And gets a spade of responses along the lines “why are you taking a negative approach by default?” and then listing any number of positive experiences.

In the ensuing discussion it becomes clear that the journalist in question has no actual knowledge of how AirBnB works. Such as that every booking is paid up front in full to AirBnB, so people not paying is not possible. Such as that each host is insured for damage through AirBnB itself. Such as that “the reliable sources” he heard negative experiences from should be verifiable at the site itself, since both host and guest have profiles showing their reputation. In short, the journalist didn’t think to spend 5 minutes checking out the AirBnB website, FAQ and his sources stories, but started down the lazy route of collecting a handful of anecdotes from Facebook first.

Also there seemed no realization that even finding a good number of negative stories does not automatically constitute a story unless it concerns a significant portion of overall experiences¬†(because when you do a lot of transactions the chances of something happening quickly increases to 1. Statistics, probability, and all that…)¬†or shows a pattern like AirBnB not living up to its commitments when something does happen. It seemed having negative stories was the news being sought.

Asked the journalist “So I don’t have my facts straight. Is that bad?”

journalists at play
Journalists at Play by Lisa Padilla (CC-BY)

One reaction on “Asks the Journalist: “Is that bad?”

  1. I didn’t go to journalism school, but I suppose this is the type of thing that’d be discussed in classes about journalism theory. Is it OK to report on stories that have a small statistical probability? What is our responsibility as journalists to ensure that our words do not portray a false impression of the facts?

    Having written for traditional editors, though, I have a feeling that even if a journo put in a line about the probability of x event happening to n# of readers, that the editor would cut that line pronto.

    What do journalism professors say about all of this?

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