Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Accurate headlines: "Crocodile nightmare"

Crocodile drama (photographer unknown)
The media really loves crocodiles, not because journalists necessarly like crocodiles, but because the word "crocodile" casts a thrall over many readers. They see a headline with the magic word in it, and they have to click the link, or buy the paper in the newsagent. It's therefore too much to resist shoehorning the word "crocodile" into as many news stories as possible. Every so often when I see a really egregious example, in the interests of accuracy and balance, I'm going to write a more accurate version. I'll try and post these under the tag "Accurate headlines". So, let's get started.

Here's one (courtesy ninemsn) that struck me today, and it's a familiar theme. The headline is "Crocodile nightmare for four fishing mates". So wow, that sounds pretty dramatic! Were these four guys attacked by a crocodile? Perhaps they were threatened by one, or were in serious danger of being attacked?

Actually, no. What a relief, in fact. What actually happened was four guys went fishing, got themselves into difficulties for one reason or another, and consequently spent 14 hours stranded amongst flooded mangroves. They set off an EPIRB beacon and authorities spent a considerable period of time trying to locate them. Why so long? Well, unfortunately the guys hadn't registered the EPIRB (a standard safety requirement) which made finding out who owned the EPIRB and where they might be considerably harder. Fortunately authorities eventually got a decent signal and were able to locate them. No crocodiles were involved in any way, shape or form, other than the fact they were in mangrove habitat where crocodiles are known to live. That's it. Perhaps one of the guys had a nightmare about a crocodile while sleeping in the boat?

So a more accurate headline might read: "Four fishermen put their lives at risk and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars because they went fishing in bad weather unprepared and with an unregistered EPIRB".

Of course, we're all glad that they were rescued and that no crocodiles were involved, but the risk factor here was not the crocodiles but the lack of regard for their own safety. We can only wonder how worried their families were. If there's an upside to the dramatic angle taken by the headline, it's hopefully more people reading about the need to go out fishing with a bit more preparation and safety.

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