But the Columbia Journalism Review also criticizes “finger-pointing tone” and lack of substance
Bloggers have been calling on the mainstream news media to be more aggressive in investigating the possible link between confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and the swine flu outbreak.
Tom Philpott raised the alarm back on Saturday with a post at Grist suggesting that a a CAFO in La Gloria, Mexico, could be the source of the infection. And on Monday, I criticized the news media for not exploring the broader scientific context — namely, the fact that public health officials have been concerned for years that CAFOs could be the source of novel flu viruses with pandemic potential.
Today, the Columbia Journalism Review both criticized and commended us for taking up this call:
… now is the perfect time for journalists to begin investigating CAFOs in a responsible fashion. That means doing things a little differently than the early blog posts, which tended to have a finger-pointing tone, did not deliver much context about evidence and controlling for alternative hypotheses, and did not call experts to test their theories.
Those bloggers deserve credit for calling the press into action, however, for they obviously succeeded. It’s a fine line between asking tough questions and jumping to conclusions, and somebody has to walk it.
I accept both the praise and the criticism, which is fair.
In my posts, and in many email messages with fellow journalists, I’ve argued that the news media should stop chasing each other’s tails in reporting the very latest clusters of cases (which only served to heighten the panicked atmosphere) and start asking some tough questions. There are valid scientific reasons to ask whether CAFOs could help novel flu viruses to emerge, and it is the responsibility of the press to explore that science.
Curtis Brainard is absolutely right in his CJR review that there currently is no solid evidence linking the CAFO in La Gloria to the flu outbreak. If I didn’t make that clear enough in my original post, that was a mistake. But he is also right that it’s time for journalists to begin investigating CAFOs in a responsible fashion. Although my tone was too accusatory (particularly in the headline), all I’ve been arguing for is responsible investigation.