Terrible Reporting: Associated Press on Texting while Driving

In the health section of my Google news feed, an Associated Press story addresses the horror of teen driving.  They link to it as printed in the Albany Times Union, and USA Today.  The Times Union titled it "A texting 'epidemic,'" and USA Today used the much more reasonable title, "CDC: Older teens often text while behind the wheel." The picture attached to the story is also presented differently on the two sites -- it's a picture of 18 year old Dylan Young, who was in an accident involving texting while driving.  It's an AP photo, and it shows him leaning against a brick wall, holding a cell phone.

In the Times Union article, it appears (weirdly cropped, and with another, more cinematic photo of Dylan standing near the curb with a blurry car in the background) at the top of the article, with a huge block of text:[1. The Times Union also does this annoying thing that Fox also does where whenever you copy text from their site, it inserts an ad at the end of the section you copied.]

Dylan Young, 18, a senior at North Arlington High, stands Wednesday, June 6, 2012, near the site where he was in a fender bender caused by being distracted while texting and driving, in North Arlington, N.J. More than half of high school seniors say they text or email while driving, according to a jarring new study that offers the first federal statistics on how common the dangerous habit is in teens. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers Thursday, June 7, 2012. They come from a 2011 survey of about 15,000 high school students across the country. The study found 58 percent of high school seniors said that, in the previous month, they had texted or emailed while driving. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

I don't know why they needed to say he was standing "near the site" where the accident happened.  By comparison, here's the USA Today caption:

Dylan Young, 18, a senior at North Arlington High, was in a fender-bender accident caused by being distracted while texting and driving.

The USA Today article also has a video at the top, also from AP, covering the same story quite a lot better, leading with the more positive information as presented by a CDC representative.

So, the USA Today post is significantly less terrible in its presentation.  But they still both feature the same article, and it's a very bad article.

It opens:

ATLANTA (AP) – Think your teen would never text while driving? More than half of high school seniors admitted in a government survey that they've done just that.

It goes on, in the first six paragraphs, to call it "a national epidemic," listing some scary sounding statistics, and quoting a woman whose son was in an accident.[2. Because, as we all know, people who happen to have had something bad happen to them or anyone near them are always totally dispassionate experts on that thing.]

After that, there's a reasonable quantity of genuinely valid information that does belong in the article.  Then, in a reversal of the format of the Fox News article I lamented a couple weeks ago, it ends first with an unjustified whinge by a non-expert (the aforementioned mother), then with the explanation that the available evidence straight-up contradicts her, pointing out that terrible driving habits have been consistently declining -- suggesting there's no good reason to think texting while driving won't decline, too.

Some more crap reporting

MSNBC writes, "Faster-than-light neutrinos... aren't, scientists conclude."  I just want to take a moment and point out why that headline is awful -- there was never any argument that there were faster than light neutrinos.  That is a fabrication of the media.  It's not okay for news outlets to make up a controversy based on what scientists acknowledged was almost-definitely an error then write snide headlines like that when they confirm that, yes, they were right, it was an error.

Hank Green at Sci Show has a video about the whole neutrino controversy, if you want more information.