Journalism is lousy with prizes. In Canada, you can win a National Newspaper Award, a National Magazine Award, a Canadian Online Publishing Award, a Michener Award, a Judith Jasmine prize, an Atlantic Journalism Award, the list goes on.
Yes, we love to celebrate ourselves.
But of all the awards up for grabs, there’s one piece of hardware that no self-respecting journalist would covet. Established in 2010 by University of Oxford professor Dorothy Bishop, the Orwellian Prize is awarded to “an article in an English-language national newspaper that has the most inaccurate report of a piece of academic work.” Its full title is the Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misrepresentation.
This award is not to be confused with the Orwell Prize, another U.K. offering that bills itself as “Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing.” Though in fairness to that prize, one recent winner was Johann Hari, who admitted to plagiarizing some of his columns for The Independent. He subsequently returned his prize.
But back to the anti-Pulitzer. This week Bishop announced the 2011 winner. Hearty congratulations to British tabloid the Daily Mail. Its winning work completely ignored the actual findings of a research paper in order to concoct a false, sensationalized story about marijuana and schizophrenia.
For example, the story’s headline was, “Just ONE cannabis joint ‘can bring on schizophrenia’ as well as damaging memory.”
“Suffice it to say, the academic paper is not about cannabis, smoking or schizophrenia,” Bishop wrote in announcing the award. (The headline was later amended slightly after a complaint to the U.K.’s Press Complaints Commission. But the equally objectionable story text remained untouched.)
Bishop determines the winner using a point system that awards three points for errors in a headline, two points for an error in a subhead, and one point each for errors in the story text. The Mail racked up an impressive 23 points. The headline alone accounted for 12 points.
Along with the impressive point total, Bishop said this year’s winner is especially deserving because “this is about using a scientific paper as a prop in the Daily Mail’s anti-cannabis campaign . . . When reporting research, no respect is given to the truth: scientists are simply used to bolster a preconceived opinion, and if they don’t do that, their findings are distorted.”
For an effort that went above and beyond the facts, the Orwellian Prize was given to Daily Mail editor-in-chief Paul Dacre. While no money is involved, Bishop created a mock-up of a certificate and a medal that bears the words “Let me drop some science on you!”
– Article originally from The Star.