Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hospitals in Crisis?!?

Today one of my students brought her social studies homework to her tutoring session. She had with her an article clipped from a newspaper,which she was to analyze - forensically and critically - from the dual perspectives of current affairs and journalistic bias.
First things first: 
"This is a continuation of an article from page 1."  I said.  "You only brought the second half."
She shrugged.  
            "I just cut something out of a newspaper lying around the classroom.  It's, like, two years old or something."
It was the second half of an article about last week's post-Japanese-horror bun-fight over Australia's nuclear potential.
            "Did you bring anything else?
            "Shall we give it a go, then?  See if we can figure it out?"
We read it through and I asked for first impressions.  She shrugged helplessly.  "I've no idea what they're talking about." 
            "Right."  I said.  "We've got two options.  We can plow on and see if we can work out the politics of uranium enrichment as we go, or we can walk down the street to the newsagent and buy a new paper.  What would you rather do?"

We bought a copy of the Adelaide Advertiser (which is the journalistic equivalent of Muzak, but does have the offsetting advantage of being local) and waded in. The Adelaide Crows were celebrating all over page 1.  Page 3 was a human interest photo of a cuddly Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat, but at the very bottom of page 6, we found a rather alarming article on overcrowded hospitals.  There were lots of big words like "Crisis" and "Lives at Risk."  It was so alarming that I had my student marking quotes and opinions in colored pencil, with a special bright red pencil for facts, and it became pretty clear pretty quickly that the paper had printed up a rather polemical liberal party press release, with a few conjunctions and "he saids" thrown in to make it sound as if the paper had done some independent reporting.
That bright red pencil didn't get much of a workout.
It's quite probable that we do have problems with overcrowding and high patient loads in city hospitals.  It's quite possible that this needs some rather direct and timely attention.
But is it a crisis?  Is it a scandal?  What are we really meant to do with the information?  After three readings, my student didn't have a clue.  But she did have a whole lot of questions, none of which were addressed  anywhere in the newspaper.  We would have loved to have talked about journalistic bias as per the homework specs, but the article was so clearly copy+paste that we couldn't get past the editorial laziness to find any.

So we took a slight thematic detour and had a little discussion about responsible journalism and it's relationship to the ability of a paper's readership to make informed decisions, with particular regard toward advertised editorial aspirations vs. the need for independent critical analysis - I'm afraid I said rather a lot on the subject.

But the Advertiser is our source for state news.  Better she hear it all now than after she's swallowed a paper-full of adversarial nyah-nyah written to inflame and unseat rather than inform.
And you've always got photographs of wombats.  They look like sofa cushions and they're cute.  That's why they rate Page 3.  

No comments:

Post a Comment