To err is human

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41ma-KlXVmLIn online publishing  perhaps Alexander Pope’s eminent quote “To err is human; to forgive, divine” should be changed to: “to err is human; to correct, divine.” When a fallacious facts make their way into newspapers, the bolted horse often means that corrections are more notably visible.

However in online news often there’s the temptation to fix that fact without a trace of an apology or correction. But given that journalism is the first draft of history, don’t publishes owe it to their readers to act ethically and correct correctly by being transparent in how they make corrections?

The Economist Style Guide dictates:

Apologies and corrections: Unless some other arrangement has been made, apologies and corrections should appear, under the heading Apology (or Correction), in a box in the section giving rise to them, at either the top or the bottom of the page. Corrections need not be ponderous. Apologies, however, should not be flippant. They should leave the reader with the impression that we are genuinely sorry for any offence given, not merely sorry that we had to say sorry.

Making mistakes in the news business is punishing to the ego, but accepting responsibility for those errs creates a sense of accountability which is important to ensure the credibility of news brands.

Besides The Economist Style Guide is useful for a lot more than just good form when it comes to apologies and corrections. From that writer’s ‘how to’, here’s George Orwell’s six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language”, 1946):

  1. Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
  3. If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
  4. Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).

The business of religion

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Christ (with TV head) on the cross by on Flickr.
Christ (with TV head) on the cross by on Flickr.

Whether it is exorcising demons, ‘auditing’ adepts using a crude lie detector, or getting paid to offer people a one way ticket to heaven, the economy of divine devotion is a big business. Jonathan H. Pienaar and Mandy de Waal investigated the supply and demand side of faith in the April 18 issue of Finweek, and counted the blessings accrued by Scientology; pentecostal ministers in Nigeria; the Zion Christian Church; and much, much more.

What was interesting to uncover during our research was the nexus between religiosity and poverty. Jon and I discovered that religion can be good for growing the wealth of those who feed the growing populist demand for faith in developing countries, but questioned whether  divine devotion was beneficial to a nation’s development.

Gregory S. Paul, a US palaeontologist, illustrator and author doesn’t think religiosity benefits nations, and has done scientific research to back up his hypothesis that religion is in fact ‘bad’ for economies. The dinosaur specialist who was credited for his work on Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Paul’s recent work on the relationship between religion and society has earned him high praise.

Paul doesn’t believe that religions prosper in wealthy and successful societies, and created what he calls the ‘Successful Societies Scale’ to prove this. The tool analyses 25 socioeconomic indicators against data on religious practices in some 17 developed nations. “Only the least godly democracies enjoy the best overall socioeconomic conditions,” Paul stated on his web site, and added: “In history, the much more Christian US is the most dysfunctional first-world nation according to major indicators.”

Paul looked at a wide range of information to arrive at his results, and this data includes societal data like teenage pregnancies, infant mortalities and homicide rates. The most secular societies, he discovered, were those that had the highest socioeconomic scores.

“No socioeconomically successful and highly religious nation has ever existed, and the antagonistic relationship between benign conditions and the popularity of religion probably make it impossible for one to come into being,” Paul exclaimed.

Paul did the research to show that societies that don’t believe in a God or a higher being aren’t doomed, but actually prosper and fare much better from a societal well-being and economic perspective than more religious countries. “It’s not fear of death that drives people to be religious, and it’s not a God gene or a God module in the brain or some sort of connection with the gods; it’s basically a psychological coping mechanism,” Paul stated.

But let’s look at other data to see if it confirms Paul’s assertions regarding the relationship between religion and socioeconomic success. The WIN-Gallup International ‘Religion and Atheism Index’ measures global self-perceptions on beliefs and ranks the top ten atheist and the top ten most religious countries. The survey is based on interviews with more than 50,000 men and women from 57 countries across the globe spanning five continents.

The results?

The Top Ten Atheist Countries, according to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Poll:

atheist countries

(11 countries shown because of 4 tying in at 10%)

The Top Ten Religious Countries, according to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Poll:

religious countries

Now let’s look at a list of the list of top performing countries in terms of gross domestic product, as determined by the World Bank:



GDP (Millions of $US)


World 69,983,693n12 2011
1  United States 15,094,000 2011
2  China 7,318,499n2 2011
3  Japan 5,867,154 2011
4  Germany 3,570,556 2011
5  France 2,773,032n4 2011
6  Brazil 2,476,652 2011
7  United Kingdom 2,431,589 2011
8  Italy 2,194,750 2011
9  Russia 1,857,770 2011
10  India 1,847,982 201

Nigeria comes in at 41 with a GDP of US$ 235,923 million on this list; Ghana at number 84 with a GDP of US$ 39,200 million; and Armenia is at number 125 with a GDP of 10,248 of US$ 39,200 million. Conversely China, Japan and Germany top the atheist rankings, and score amongst the highest in terms of GDP rankings, showing a strong nexus between economic prosperity and a lack of religion.

The WIN-Gallup survey shows that the poor are more religious, and people in bottom income groups were 17% more religious than those in top income groups. “It is interesting that Religiosity declines as worldly prosperity of individuals rises,” the survey read. “While the results for nations as a whole are mixed, individual respondents within a country show a revealing pattern. If citizens of each of the 57 countries are grouped into five groups, from the relatively poor to relatively rich in their own countries, the richer you get, the less religious you define yourself,” said the WIN-Gallup authors.

Religion is on a downward trend. Globally, those claiming to be religious have dropped by 9%, while atheism has risen by rises by 3% “Most of the shift is not drifting from their faith, but claiming to be ‘not religious’ while remaining within the faith,” the survey read. “Religion becomes less central as people’s lives become less vulnerable to the constant threat of death, disease and misfortune,” Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart write in their book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. But political scientists and sociologists agree that wealth is a strong causal factor that explains why religion erodes, but concede that there are a myriad of other influences that contribute to this loss of faith.

Download a preview of the “Business of Religion” edition – Finweek-Eng_18-April-2013_preview.

Read more about Gregory Paul’s thinking on The Science of Religion.

Online course : Reporting on Women’s Issues

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Woman in Cairo bazaar by [CC]
Woman in Cairo bazaar by [CC]
Trust Media, a division of Thomson Reuters Foundation is offering a 5-day intensive course on Reporting on Women’s Issues. Described as a “lively and practical seminar designed to help journalists refine their skills” the online tutorials will focus on choosing the best angle for your story; getting women to speak up; presentation skills and writing for greater impact; bringing narrative quality in the News Organization (story-telling); ethics and fact-checking; conveying a local (or national) story for a global audience; critical assessment of women’s issues coverage in the global media and safety for female journalists. Get more information about signing up at Trust Media.

Job Opps : The New York Times

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New York Times by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr. CC.
New York Times by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr. CC.

Always wanted to work at The New York Times? This could be your opportunity.

Assistant Editor Opening in Digital Platforms: The New York Times is looking for an editor to work on a variety of exciting Web and mobile projects. The ideal candidate will have a well-rounded mix of journalism experience, Web production know-how, creativity and a love of technology. We want to find people who have a lot of ideas, both big and small, about what The Times can be doing better, especially on phones and tablets. Get all the info here.

Investigative journalism – the scapegoat

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eluniverso“What do a Saudi billionaire, a Ukrainian businessman, an Icelandic Bank, the Hungarian Prime Minister and the President of Ecuador have in common? ” asks Monica Almeida, the Quito editor of daily newspaper El Universo. Her answer? Each of these people all hate and fear investigative reporters, who are the muckrakers whose job is to dig deeply into public interest issues and to expose political rot and corporate graft. “Around the world, investigative journalism is under threat from a variety of hostile forces that may seem to have different agendas yet use similar tactics and procedures. Governments – regardless of their professed ideologies – big corporations, powerful personalities and overzealous institutions are high-jacking the judiciary system and promoting a perverse regulatory framework to prop up their self-defined right to be immune from criticism and scrutiny,” the former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University writes.  Read more in this Al Jazeera opinion, in which Almeida says that investigative journalism is the scapegoat of the rich and the powerful – of those with something to hide.