Sunday, August 2, 2009

Morgenbladet vs. VG and Aftenposten

I like Morgenbladet enough to be a subscriber. Usually I think their stuff is really good, except that it's skewed towards the liberal arts side of academia, and that they screw up fiercely when they try to report something on hard science, like nanotechnology. This week, however, Frank Rossavik must've been on vacation or something when they concocted the cover story.

This week's cover story blew chunks Exorcist style.

The cover story is a rebuttal against VG's and Aftenposten's ongoing barrage of reports on how beggars from eastern Europe are often organized and tied in with - well - organized crime. Now; I haven't read any of the stories in either VG or Aftenposten, but if Simen Sætre from Morgenbladet says so, I'm prone to believe it. The angle of the cover story is that the aforementioned major newspapers have broken with journalism ethics (that's an oxymoron for ya right there) in that they have more or less constantly accused a population segment of criminal activity without giving said segment the opportunity to voice their side of the story. So; Simen Sætre brought along some photographer and - get this - mosied on down to Karl Johan to ask some five "street musicians/beggars". In order to really get to the bottom of this, Sætre channeled the combined spirits of Inspector Morse, Poirot, Miss Marple, Vick Mackey and Sherlock Holmes by asking the interviewees (who agreed to be interviewed if they were paid 200 NOK, but accepted the counteroffer of a kebab a piece - wonder where Simen Sætre has learned his negotiation skillz. Harvard MBA? I think not) whether they were part of criminal organizations or whether they knew anything about beggars and street performers being tied in with organized crime.

Exactly how this act would elucidate anything is beyond me. Did Simen Sætre expect that they would break down if indeed they were guilty? That no criminal could stand up to the intense scrutiny of his Lo-Rent Scooby Doo and Mystery Machine approach?

Simen Sætre: Iz U up to no good?
Bad guy: Yes - I confess. I was planning to steal the jewelry from the haunted mansion. And I would've gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling kids.

Here's a free tip: If the question you ask is doomed to elicit the same answer whether the person you ask is the ghost of Mother Theresa, a random guy on the street or Charles Manson, the question was probably poorly designed, and hence the amount of information you can extract is non-existent.

But sure; the piece could've been a nice counterweight type story featuring some innocent people who have wrongly been typecast as villains. Still not a decent cover story, but a human interest dealie. However, there are two problems with pegging east-European mobs as figments of VG's and Aftenposten's imagination: 1) I've never read any of these stories, but I've seen plenty of TV news coverage featuring either police officers or councilman Erling Lae outlining the existence and problems associated with exactly what Simen Sætre claims are false accusations from VG's and Aftenposten's reporters. 2) Some of the comments from the interviewees - especially those from a quartet of street musicians - were less than credible. For one thing, they denied doing anything illegal (natch), but they also plead innocent to knowing of any connection between beggars and organized crime whatsoever. Right. That's as credible as Castro claiming that no prostitution exists on Cuba. The other thing was that they claimed to live off of their earnings as street musicians, and claimed that their total daily earnings amounted to 150 NOK which was split four ways. For those of you doing the math at home, that's a claim that you can live off of 37.50 NOK per day in Oslo. So; how does that mesh with their claim of coming to Norway to make money?

It is my sincere hope that I'll get to see less of Simen Sætre and his Bambi-esque naivete in future editions of Morgenbladet.


Anders said...

Basic journalism fail.
You would think scenarios like this is what they teach at the journalist school.

Wilhelm said...

I definitely see the "The other side of the story/human interest" angle, but when the questions were piss-poor and the interviewees churn out BS and thus fail to elicit sympathy, it's just a massive clusterfuck. The fact that it was the cover story kind of was the crowning achievement.