Satellites and the news media

From: Rodney Austin (
Date: Fri Mar 30 2007 - 18:42:08 EDT

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    Hi Robert,
    Actually I think that the papers probably ran with the info they had
    been supplied with from official sources, but the story changed
    mid-stream right when the papers were being printed. I don't seriously
    think that they can be held responsible in this case with all the
    confusion going on over the incident. The updated report ran the
    following day, but it is a continuing problem getting the news media
    to get things dead right. When I worked for the Taranaki Daily News
    (scanner operator), the reporters and subs used to come to me to check
    on things, knowing my fanaticism with astronomy.
    With newspapers, the chain of reporting is often a direct cause of
    most of the problems.
    1. Someone contacts a reporter, who in a lot of cases is a kid
    straight out of a journalism school, and knows nothing apart the fact
    they are alive.
    2. The reporter writes up the story with his/her own interpretation of
    what they heard.
    3. The story is checked generally by the Chief reporter to ensure
    nothing actually defamatory is said.
    4. The story is subbed onto a page by a sub-editor who knows nothing
    about the subject either, checking to see the story fits the hole in
    the page. Often the context gets slightly altered in the process.
    Remeber that while everyone has their own specific interests,
    newspapers have to cover so many different types of stories etc that
    they have to rely on the originator of the story getting it correct
    In this case the airline people were in confusion as were we all. It
    must have been easier pre 1957, when things like this were either
    meteors or UFOs. These days satellites get the blame for everything.
    5. The paper gets printed and hits the streets where we wince and
    99.9% of Joe Bloggs public couldn't care less what the object was;
    just that they are pleased they weren't on the plane. (We on the other
    hand would have given our eyeteeth to have seen the event ;:-}))  ).
    6. The paper then gets used in the cat's litter box. We continue to
    fume and the rest of the populace turn to the sports pages in
    tomorrow's paper.
    What I think is really needed is for everyone to make contact with
    their local newspapers and make it known that for items of a specific
    scientific nature, they are available to either check the info or as
    an accurate news source, prior to publication. In some cases they
    might get a polite brush-off, but generally the news media like to get
    it right (despite my generally cynical comments); unless they are the
    gutter press when all bets are off. Of course I was in a useful
    situation. Working for the paper, and having a reputation in astronomy
    generally helped.
    Rod Austin
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