Wednesday, June 11, 2008

At The Whim Of Our Sources

Today I'm thinking about language and reporting again. The issue with the news is that we take it as fact -- and the entire style of writing the news is written in order to portray itself like fact.

Today from the NY Times:

"Global oil demand is expected to grow at a slower pace than previously expected this year as a result of record prices and shrinking subsidies in some emerging countries, a leading energy forecaster said on Tuesday."

I think that's interesting -- especially in light of the G-8 news -- was Bush's urging to cut subsidy really a statement of anti-industrialization?

But what really surprises me is the second graph:

"But because of lagging investments in new sources of oil, the growth in consumption is still expected to outpace new supplies, according to the latest monthly report by the International Energy Agency, a policy adviser for industrial countries."

You are always at the whim of your sources if you don't know what you are talking about. It's the placement of the attribution -- we attribute at the end of a sentence to leave the emphasis on the information -- but think about how the paragraph changes if you put it at the beginning. This statement sounds like spin for the purpose of policy change -- but it is reported as fact.

The second paragraph of a NY Times article blames the oil problem on lack of new wells.

This is not shocking coming from an industry advisor.
This is shocking coming from the Times.

The issues of peak oil and global warming -- they seem to be fairly well documented -- they also seem to make sense. Oil is a finite resource. We burn a lot of toxins. Furthermore, one reason for lack of development in new sources is that the oil that is out there still is harder to get, harder to use, and smaller in reserve... it's not like lack of investment as in why don't you stop smoking or why don't you spend some more time in therapy, dear. The International Energy Agency itself is calling for an "energy revolution."

Reporting is a flawed art, of course; that is true in life and in the papers. Interpretation, analysis, communication. But you always have to understand why you know and what is told to you as separate entities.

Best to try to look around and see things the way they are. There's no judgment in seeing clearly -- but it's necessary for the future.

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