Thursday 27 January 2011

Slow News Day

The BBC recently ran a story in how the Lonely Planet has been a little nasty to the delightful Devonian city of Plymouth, naturally as someone who has reasonable ties to the city I had a quick read of the article and then set upon reading the actually Lonely Planet entry – I have a strange thing about reading guide book entries for places I know rather well.

It turns out that the BBC has been a little misleading on two counts,

Firstly news tends to be ‘new’ it’s kind of in the name, well this edition of the book is available on GoogleBooks ( and does have an informative section on Plymouth which matches the text in the article; interestingly though this book has been out for three  years  (published in Feb 2008) and is duplicated in the Great Britain book (published 2009) , yet its cutting comments on Plymouth’s significant but at times God-awful architecture have been sitting about for three years... yet only make news on the 25th of January 2011.

Secondary it subscribes to the Daily Mail manner of producing stories; that is ‘focus on the bit you want to bring across and only slightly mention any other aspect, oh and get something basic wrong’, it performs the later by successfully getting the wrong page number (it says 162, while in reality its page 196) while the former it delves into by essentially it indicating that Lonely Planet states that Plymouth is a bit of a dive but Exeter and Torquay are alright.

Well actually the only the negative text in the Lonely planet passage has been successfully mined out by the BBC, the rest of the article tends to be fairly nice, describing Plymouth’s history, wide range of attractions, bars and restaurants with the usual good flair – with a much larger slot that the more traditionally touristy Torquay and Exeter, besides , other than shopping and a day wandering round the compact barbican looking all historical– there aren’t many reasons for tourists to voyage to Plymouth.

So, this blog is roughly about geoscience; and its communication... what does the Lonely Plant describing Plymouth 3 years ago as grimy have to do with anything? Simple, the article was published not nationally, but in the local section, it’s audience was people from Plymouth or South Devon who may have strong feelings about the tourism knock-on effects of a poor write up, and travel guides are similar to scientific papers, they are an evidence based opinion, fieldwork has been conducted (the authors heading out and researching), it has been subject to peer review (has to be good quality or the ‘Rough Guide’ will sell more) and its audience is seeking knowledge and willing to gamble holiday time and money on it – the fact that the BBC felt it newsworthy to publish a three year old story on not a great deal of controversy points to how science can be reported; when a slow news day comes about, an old story, designed to generate aggravated feelings can be pumped out to generate emotions or concerns– something we’ve seen once or twice before