Tracy Vedder slams into the limits of journalism

KOMOI have a great deal of respect for Tracy Vedder.

Without her work, we wouldn’t know about the problems with the 520 floating bridge replacement project.

She is a proven, award-winning reporter who has done a lot of good – in no small part thanks to the high level of of KOMO’s commitment for living out the “Working for You” brand promise via the Problem Solvers.

But then Friday evening came a story about a couple of Renton resident’s fears that low-level electromagnetic waves coming from new digital water meters are repelling song birds in the area.


I’m sorry to say however that this is about par for the course when it comes to the media’s approach to junk science, and KOMO typically isn’t about shooting par.

A couple of neighbors are afraid of something, and it’s journalism’s job to treat each side “objectively.” Really?

I’m just glad the neighbors weren’t worried about falling off the edge of the planet.

Now in all fairness, I know that Tracy may well be rolling her eyes over this one too. The show needs a package – any package – today. It’s an easy shoot, and you’ve fed the beast for the day even if you’re not too damned proud of it. I have done this. Admitted.

The problem though is that it lends legitimacy to the neighbor’s fears about low level waves and their behavior-changing cause-and-effect relationship with wildlife. This in turn infects the public mind about the legitimacy of junk science. It impedes democracy, policy, clear thought and learning. Just the MENTION of this possibility is a disservice when the media lends its stamp of importance to something. See, that’s the danger.

Listen: It is bunk. Period. We don’t need both sides of that story any more than we need both sides of the story about whether we landed on the moon.

Journalism advances the cause of humanity. He said-she said journalism does not.

The problem is that very few MANAGERS understand this concept. Good grief, a helluva’ lot of people sure seem to know what journalism is. Very few however know what it isn’t.

A great manager says, “We’re not going to bite on this straight away – but take some time and debunk it. If you find a shred of truth to it, I will buy you lunch for your hard work and to be sure I’m not on the side of influencing you to prove my bias.” I’ll still know it’s bunk of course – but we’ll have some fun and maybe come out with a good story about the dangers of magical thinking.

A good manager says, “We’re not going to dignify this with a story – let’s move on – and producer person – please let’s not let the beast (28 newscasts a day plus Tweets, Facebook and Pinterest) drive bad decision making.”

A regular old schmo says, “Well, we need the story. Let’s just get it knocked-out and most importantly, be objective so our lame program stream conforms to something I heard in a class about 40 years ago.”

A really bad manager says, “Here’s another reporter complaining about having to do a story and questioning the news judgement of my team. I’m tired of the complaining!”

I don’t think KOMO is infected, at all, with bad managers.

In the end, some days you’re just happy for a walk, or a weak single.

It made slot, it was nicely shot, it was local. It just set humanity back a decade.