Neil's News

Human Element

31 December 2010

Science Press Conference (With apologies/admiration to Randall Munroe.)
[Press conference comic]

I get really annoyed with the media always trying to find the "human element" behind every story. NASA press conferences are particularly painful to watch. Ever notice that the most common question[?] asked of astronauts is "What does it feel like in space?" followed by "How do you go to the bathroom?" Never asked is "How does your spaceship generate power?" or "Could this have been done cheaper by a robot?"

Human-centric story-telling is a natural result of a population that is largely scientifically illiterate. I've come to expect it whenever dealing with the press ("What do you do at Google?" "I develop differencing algor -- I make the Internet go faster."). But last week I actually had a human-centric story to tell. A young man, wrongfully accused, imprisoned for months, police brutality, rights of photographers, racism. It's the stuff that reporters dream of.

And the reporters did love it. Local and national television interviews, newspapers and bloggers. I was getting an email every three minutes and my phone was constantly ringing. Awesome, just what Jeremy needs, publicity to shine a light at how broken the system is that he's caught up in. Except that's not what was being reported. The story that captured everyone's attention wasn't "young black man being railroaded by out of control legal system". It was "old white dude helps someone at christmas". Apparently the former is not newsworthy in the US, whereas the latter is rare enough to be news.

The narrative had been written and only the aspects which supported that narrative were presented. My repeated requests that interviewers give Jeremy a call and actually talk to him were ignored. He was not important to the story. It was all about the Google employee who saved christmas.

Jeremy, I'm sorry. I completely hijacked your story.

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