Media hype and organic agriculture: a study published in the British Food Journal

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According to Kansas State University’s Doug Powell, news accounts of organic agriculture and organic food are more likely to be positive than negative, and inaccurately claim that organic food is safer. Powell co-authored the study “Coverage of organic agriculture in North American newspapers: Media – linking food safety, the environment, human health and organic agriculture” recently published in the British Food Journal, along with colleagues Stacey Cahill and Katija Morley at the University of Guelph. Analysing the content of 618 newspaper articles over six years, they found 41.4% has a neutral tone toward organic agriculture and food, 36.9% had a positive tone, 15.5% were mixed, and 6.1% were negative. “Organic agriculture was often portrayed in the media as alternative to allegedly unsafe and environmentally damaging modern agriculture practices,” says Powell. 

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  1. Health reporting and one researcher’s pet peevesSep. 20th, 2010 by Andrew Van DamFiled under: Europe, Health journalism Dorothy Bishop, neuropsychology professor and occasional science/academics blogger (bio), ruminates on what she calls the “uneasy alliance” between science and journalism. She starts with the concession that, as Retraction Watch readers may have noticed, scientists make mistakes too. Given that, she narrows her focus.According to Bishop, “scientists tend to get cross about misleading reporting” for good reason:…it is not just down to human error. The errors aren’t random: they fall in a particular pattern suggesting that pressure to produce good stories leads to systematic distortion, in a distinctly Orwellian fashion.That pattern, she writes, manifests itself in three specific sorts of errors:Propaganda: “Deliberate distortion or manipulation of facts to support the editor’s policy.”Hype: “a bending of (research) conclusions to fit journalistic interests, typically by focusing more on future implications of a study rather than its actual findings.”Omission: “Papers go overboard for a story on a particular topic, but totally ignore other research in the same area.”It’s an even-handed piece, though it suffers from a bit of overgeneralization.Some may remember Bishop as founder of the clumsily named “Orwellian prize for journalistic misrepresentation,” which uses a scoring system to rate weaknesses in news stories. As these things go, it’s more fantasy football than it is Health News Review.