Sunday, December 07, 2008

On men biting dogs.

“Man biting dog’ is more likely to be reported as news than ‘dog biting man” is a cliché in journalism. Reuters took this piece of wisdom literally and carried a report some time back that a man in South India had indeed bitten a dog that was running off with his duck.

A corollary of this cliché is that ‘man biting dog’ is more newsworthy than ‘man not biting dog”. As at any point in time, in some part of the world or other, some man or the other is biting some dog or other, newspapers will always find such material to carry on their pages. The result being that news items on ‘men biting dogs” constitute 100% of the content in any newspaper.

So, when readers learn from the paper that “ 2 killed in road accident” or “ 5 admitted in hospital with symptoms of cholera” or “ 120 passengers of an Air India flight had a miraculous escape” they don’t pause to think that “ 9,999,998 people in that city managed not to get killed” or “ 9,999,995 people did not show symptoms of cholera” or that “ 99.7% of the flights that took off that day landed safely and uneventfully at the intended destination”. The news item has the desired effect.

So, in the interest of balance, for every sensational item that a newspaper publishes, should we insist on corresponding statistics such as what I have mentioned above?

No. It will render the newspaper too dull. They will simply have to continue with their stories of men ( or women) biting dogs. If you are looking for the 'dog-biting-man' variety, you will have to subscribe to, "the dullest blog in the world"

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