Web Journalism: Where are the editors?

To get updates on various topics, I’ve subscribed to various Twitter feeds. Many of these are not based on traditional journalism models (i.e. Newspapers) but on small, startup agencies that cover specialized subjects. Unfortunately, the issue that many journalists predicted would happen with Web 2.0 journalism seems to be taking hold: the quality of the writing is, IMHO, below 10th grade level.

this post from Mashable as an example. Simple errors here that are easily prevented with one quick look at Google Maps: 1) Jeddah isn’t “near” the Red Sea. It is ON the Red Sea. And Dubai isn’t a neighbor to Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates are. Abu Dhabi is. But Dubai isn’t. Also, if you look at the linked original article, Mashable has conveniently ignored a very important statement: “The $1.2bn (RM4bn) project has been plagued by setbacks since it was first proposed in 2011...”

Nitpicking? Hm. Maybe.

How about this article on Techcrunch. Skip to the section on the wind turbine “Trinity”. And I quoth from the text: “The micro USB port is used to charge the turbine before it can be uses with a 15,000 mAh battery. “ Ummm... why do I have to charge the turbine before using it? And what sort of grammar is “before it can be uses with a ... battery”??? That sentence doesn’t even make any sense!

This sentence from the same post is even better: “The mini turbine is powered by a 15W generator.” Um. I thought the mini turbine is wind-powered? Try: “A 15W generator is powered by the mini turbine”... ahh! Now I get it.

To be fair to Techcrunch: they merely copied the text 1:1
from the Backerjack site. Maybe that’s the new journalism: surf the internet for possibly interesting material, steal the text on these sites without reading it, paste it to your own website and put your name to it to make people think you wrote this stuff yourself.

On Techcrunch, Mr.
Ross Rubin, who posted the article above, did just that. This gentleman calls himself “principal analyst” at Reticle Research, “which he founded in 2012” (please note the quotes - when I got my degrees, we were still taught that sentences from other sources need to be quoted - something Mr. Rubin apparently didn’t learn). I always thought analysts... well - analyze? If you’d like to know what an industry analyst does, check out this extensive entry in Wikipedia.

I don’t want to only pick on Mr. Rubin here - I’ve noticed this as a general trend, and not just in the US. Apparently, the social media culture generates so much pressure to tweet, post, link and blog that folks would actually be required to sit down for a couple of hours a day to generate output.

Good thing that with WYSIWYG computing, Cmd-C/Cmd-V (that’s Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V for you poor folks out there still using Windows) was part of the “package”. And good thing those two keys are so close to one another, otherwise one would burn even more calories copying other folk’s 5th-grade-level content by having to use two hands to plagiarize.

******** April 22 Update: on the day I published this, Mr. Rubin sent me a tweet: “@hdbaumeister Thanks for pointing out the issues. I’ll address them.” He did and I definitely want to mention that here. Subsequently, you’ll find the linked article above has been edited. Thanks, Mr. Rubin!

End of quality Journalism at Scientific American?

Wow, have a look at this article by Scientific American regarding advancement in electric-powered aircraft.

I held SciAm in quite high regard as to their journalistic quality, so I hope this is a one-off.

A couple of comments:

1) The picture in the sidebar doesn’t show an “unmanned aerial vehicle” but rather a two-seater, electric sailplane with both seats filled. These are actually becoming halfway common at airshows in Germany.

2) The article indicates that the term “passenger miles per gallon” means that it is “the fuel efficiency divided by the number of passengers.” Far from it - fuel efficiency is measured in miles per gallon, so passenger miles per gallon would be fuel efficiency multiplied by the number of passengers. Ya don’t even need 12th grade math to understand that…

3) the article furthermore describes the use of electric engines as a possible alternative to using the jets to provide the propulsion for taxiing while on the ground. A comparison is made between a jet airliner using “5 megawatts of energy” as compared to an electric drive system that only uses 2 (yep - TWO!) kilowatts.

Folks, my minivan needs 85kW to accelerate its 3,000+ lbs halfway decently (faster than a tractor)… you’re trying to tell me that a 2 kW motor would be able to move an Airbus 320 at ANY speed down the taxiway? An Airbus A320 weighs in at a peak start weight of 78 metric tons!

Its beside the fact that fitting any sort of drive system to wheels that spend their time either supporting those 78 tons or residing in an unheated compartment at up to -50°C, with occasional blasts of fun while taking massive impact force during landing. Probably not an environment you want to be installing somewhat sensitive drivetrain components in.

Also, to take the same A320 as a reference: it burns 2,700kg of fuel per hour at full blast. The fuel, Jet-A, is nearly identical to Diesel fuel, so we can take that to calculate energy content. Diesel contains about 43 MJ of usable energy per kg. One kW-hour = 3,6 · 106 Joule, so per kg, Diesel would then contain about 12 kW-hours per kg.
The burn rate is then 32.400 kW during full travel speed (probably 80% of full thrust?).

Where on earth did the 5 Megawatts come from? That is the power generated by the first civil-use nuclear power plant in Obinsk (1954) at peak output!

Unfortunately, one has to be a registered member of ScientificAmerican.com to leave a comment (which is probably the reason there are - to date - only two comments, and both completely irrelevant to the article).

Subsequently, I’ve been forced to put this in my blog and tweet it to the world.