An anecdotal argument against (contemporary) journalism

LU: 2021-09-06

We all know that articles on the lines of "a recent study proves that..." are utter bullshit that exist only because clickbait pays. But exactly how bad they are? Today I will present an anecdote about exactly that and in favor of the idea, nowadays always more popular, that contemporary journalism (from now on just "journalism") is pure cancer.

It all started with this article (archive) from the Italian newspaper "Il Corriere della Sera" whose headline roughly translates to "videogames make you fit: two hours of gaming a day are equivalent to 1000 sit-ups". This is of course bullshit, but precisely because of that I got interested and started to read; in the span of seconds the magic sentence "the study was conducted by Stakester, a platform about eSports..." was found and immediately I got an urge to get my hands on it. Call me crazy, but I am the kind of asshole to question the legitimacy of such claims coming from a platform about eSports. Luckily for me, in that very sentence, the words "study was conducted by Stakester" are a clickable link but the surprising thing is that it does not point to some way of obtaining the paper. It points instead to another article of the same newspaper about some policy about videogames that China is apparently trying to push; moreover that page, I checked with Ctrl + f, does not contain the words "study" or "Stakester".

Now that's odd. It seems that these journalist did a pretty terrible job on this piece. Why would such a link point to an article that has nothing to do with what we were talking about? It is a plot to keep people browsing the newspaper's website, in order to get a couple more clicks?

So I checked the other links in the article and (un)surprisingly they are similar. Further down the article quotes Stakester's CEO, again there is a link "CEO and founder of Stakester" which points to another article on the same website whose title is "38% of Italians used videogames in 2020", which is probably not what you were expecting to find coming from that particular link. The text of the last link in the article is "gamers have a 21% probability of having a sane weight compared to non-gamers" and the surrounding context is that of another study, this time from Queensland University of Technology. Yet again upon a click the article "Call of Duty Warzone beats Fortnite: it is more popular among teenagers" shows up (of course, on the same website). Not a link to the study, nor to the university's website, nor a DOI or PMID in sight. This is clearly not the way to write a piece and it's actually quite disrespectful to the people that are reading it. But of course journalist know well that no one will ever read an entire article this days; let alone try to check out the cited studies.

But I am what I am and, withing three minutes of searching the net, I found "the study" (archive) on Stakester's own website. You can notice immediately that it is not a paper, but rather a blog post. The entire thing can be summarized as follows.

You don't want to go to the gym? No problem: play videogames instead. We hooked for you 50 people to devices who tracks your heart rate and energy consumption and calculated the relative consumption of calories. Wow! We found that playing two hours of videogames is equivalent to 1000 sit-ups! By the way don't forget to use our app to earn money, burn calories and win prizes while you waste time play videogames!

Now, putting aside the scammy promise at the end, the "study" is clearly not worth any sort of consideration. But yet if you search the net you will find hundreds of articles about it just like the one I happened to have found (to be honest: it was the article that found me). This should anger a true journalist; heck it should anger anyone who gives a damn about writing. I want to find the one who wrote the original piece on Stakester, as well as anyone who thought it would be a good idea to report about it, and give them a good old kick in the shins.

Are you journalist happy with doing such work? Is scanning the net for random "studies" and reporting about them fun? Is it useful to some mysterious agenda? Do you guys at Il Corriere della Sera have a quota of internal links per article to uphold? So that you have to make random text into links to other random articles, if you don't have anything relevant to point your links to? Are you proud of it?

I trust that people will eventually see through your schemes and decide to ignore you, as you should be, and start to distance themselves from institutionalized, mainstream sources of information such as newspaper and television. That they'll leave you in the dirt, do their own research and fly toward a world of decentralized, well-done information.

For the sake of completeness, going back to the Il Corriere della Sera's article, the second study cited (the one from Queensland University of Technology) might exists. But of course, because there is no direct link or any other mean of identification, it would be too much of a hardship to find. Yet another anecdote for you.

It should also be noted that other articles from Il Corriere della Sera contain (internal, of course) links that are relevant and on point. It seems to me that in the article discussed above links were forcibly put it as if they had to. This is how the "internal link quota" theory first arose in my mind.