Friday, June 10, 2005

I'm starting to despise the Halifax Herald

Today, I read a front-page article in the Halifax Herald about cod stocks and the imbalanced ecosystem in the Atlantic ocean.

Then I got pissed.

See, the Herald took a Canadian Press story and added its own headlines - which it is allowed to do. But the choice of headline is critical in slanting an article one way or the other. Let me explain:

The Herald placed the article on the front page under the headline "Without cod, all bets are off." The article, however, was broken up and continued later in the paper. The headline for the second part of the article read "Seals have more to feed on." And that's what got me pissed.

The article in question was a report on a study that found that low cod stocks throw the ecosystem into a perilous state of unbalance. My beef was with the second headline. If a bored or casual reader was glancing over the page and read "Seals have more to feed on," they might assume that the reason cod populations are down due to seals sitting around on ice floes gorging themselves.

Darn, we better club these seals to death before cod disappears. Heck, we need to do it for the good of our ecosystem.

And that's both faulty science and bad reporting. So I wrote this letter to the Herald:

Dear editor,

it was with great outrage that I read the story on cod stocks on the front page. More specifically, I found the choice of headline for the continuation of the article on page A10 ("Seals have more to feed on") to be irresponsible.

The article reported on a Science Magazine study: due to low cod stocks, prey fish are thriving and therefore seaweed and plankton are struggling.

If the average reader glanced at the headline, however, he or she may assume that the seal population is up as a result of a low cod population. This is misleading, as the casual reader might also assume that a cull of seals might cause cod stocks to rebound.

In fact, the story implies that cod stocks are down due to overfishing, but none of the three headlines you chose indicates this.

It was unfortunate that you decided to make a headline from a word - seal - that only appeared in the story once and had little relevance to the story. Receiving equal mention in the piece was the fact that fishermen are catching more shrimp. However, you decided to play an angle and perpetuate a viewpoint that there are too many seals in the water.

It is irresponsible journalism like this that silently portrays seals to be the villains of our oceans. Populations of cod, seal, prey fish, and plankton were in balance before we started over-fishing the seas and killing seals - this is what the Science Magazine report found, and with your choice of headline, you missed the proverbial boat.

Shit like this makes me mad.

To see how headlines can differ on CP stories, and the whole slant of an article can be created, see the same piece printed in both the Herald and the Globe and Mail.

You could also read the article, while you're at it.

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