There's a story on the BBC News site today about teenage pregnancy. It's not quite Daily Mail ("Teen mothers trigger house price collapse"), but instead quotes public health minister Caroline Flint, as saying that pregnant teenagers are deliberately smoking through their pregnancy in order to reduce the size of their babies and, therefore, the pain of delivery.
I don't really have a lot to say to that story, really. While there are undoubtedly people out there stupid enough to do such things, my guess would be simply that these women are addicted to nicotine and are being selfish in their choices, rather than thinking that the twin powers of Messrs Lambert & Butler will prevent them being ripped from here to Christmas come breeding day.
However, what did strike me about this story was its source. As the site cheerfully explains,
"Ms Flint told the meeting she had heard about the issue anecdotally from health professionals, and from young women she had met."
Oh, that's alright then! Splendid research there, Ms Flint. Firstly, as a government minister, what the hell is she doing expressing unsubstantiated theories such as this as hard fact? And while there may well be anecdotal evidence to support Flint's theory, since when did anecdotal evidence become useable as 'fact' in a national news story?
"This is what I say is happening. I have no actual tangible proof of my theory, but it is nonetheless a fact". I'm sure I remember hearing a similar sentiment on Brass Eye not a million years ago...? (cue musings on life imitating art, etc).
I've been noticing this more and more of late.
It is courtesy of the national appetite for 24 hour news, as opposed to bad journalism, that we are now subjected to strands in the evening news in which half-baked reporters stand outside empty buildings where the newsworthy action happened several hours before, with nothing new to say. But that doesn't excuse some of the sloppiness that has increasingly crept in.
Earlier this week, for example, there was a school shooting in the US (well, it was a Monday). There were very few details available for the first 24 hours, as is normal, but instead of writing what it knew and leaving it at that, the BBC (again) attached a handy email link at the bottom of the page with the following desperate-sounding plea: "Are you in the area close to this incident? Use the form below to send any information".
Not that THAT is inviting every crazy and his dog to send in "information".
Worrying though it is that 'audience participation' (once the preserve of shows hosted by Bruce Forsythe or Leslie Crowther) is now routinely solicited by news broadcasters, I don't think I've ever seen a reputable broadcaster invite its audience to actually write the news on its behalf.
I had presumed that any contributions to the story would be carefully checked and verified, but to be honest, I'm really no longer sure.