the state of things

 

How News Works No.3156

by Douglas Lindsay - 09:17 on 10 March 2009

New Dylan album out at the end of April. I Feel A Change Coming On, it appears to be called. An album of new songs, not yet another rehash of Blowing' In The Wind and Forever Young. Some people might think this is exciting news and some people might not care. We're split 1-3 in our house.

Yesterday some news outlets carried a piece about recognition amongst 11-16 year olds in Britain of Auschwitz. Did they know what it was, that was the question. You wouldn't have thought it from the way the piece was written, but 75% of kids knew that it was death camp.

75% seems to be a pretty high number for recognition of anything that happened sixty-five years ago. Generally in life, on any subject matter, a lot of people just don't care, and a lot of people are stupid. To find something that happened in the first half of the last century and that three-quarters of teenagers know about, is pretty impressive. What are the chances that 75% of British 11-16 year-olds know about the Khmer Rouge or the Interahamwe?

According to the study of 1,200 kids, 2% of them thought Auschwitz was a beer. That's twenty-four kids. The chances are, of course, that these twenty-four kids didn't actually think it was a beer. They were either a) messing about or b) taking a wild stab in the dark because they genuinely didn't know. The chances of any of them sneaking into their local pub with a fake ID card and asking for a pint of Auschwitz are nil.

So, three-quarters of British kids know what Auschwitz was about, hardly any think it was a beer. What was the headline of the story?

British Kids Think Auschwitz Was A Beer.

The study was arranged by the distributors of the film The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. They were probably a bit disappointed when they found out that 75% of British kids knew what they were talking about, it wasn't so much of a story. So they had to spin it as best they could.

The politics of Holocaust remembrance aside, any news outlets which picked up the story would have done so because it had British kids are stupid written all over it. The fact that the findings of the study actually showed British kids aren't stupid wasn't the point. British Kids Not Stupid isn't a headline.

Some guys did a study. They spun its findings. They put out a release to the Press Association. They put it out to media outlets with the spin still on it. Some of those media outlets ran with the story as it was without removing the spin. How news works.

Tomorrow, British Men think Barney Thomson series Funniest British Comedy Ever.


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