Is your press release twisting facts on purpose?

A sensational headline based on distorted facts? Not the ideal way to present news.

A copywriter, not a journalist myself, I’m a bit out of my depth here, but I was pointed to a strange story by a Twitter friend of mine today.

“OMG! Excessive Texting Tied to Risky Teen Behaviors” shouts a headline in Bloomberg Business Week. “Excessive Texting Tied to Teens’ Risky Behaviors” says USNews. The point of these stories is that “Excessive texting and social networking may increase teens’ risk for dangerous health behaviors, including smoking, drinking and sexual activity” (Bloomberg) and “Teens who send more than 120 text messages a day are more likely to have had sex or used alcohol and drugs than their peers who text less” (USNews). The reference is to hyper-texting teenagers, meaning those who send more than 120 text messages a day.

WHAT? I asked myself.

On closer reading, the facts begin to emerge. We’re not talking about hyper-networkers, we are talking about “many of the 19.8 percent of teens who reported hyper-texting” being “female, minority, from lower socioeconomic status and had no father at home”. OK, now we know the problem affects less than one in five teenagers who come from unhappy living environments.

Medicus

What surprised me most was the source of those juicy headlines, a press release by Scott Frank, MD, lead researcher at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, being even juicier, headed “Hyper-texting and Hyper-Networking Pose New Health Risks for Teens”. He says:

The startling results of this study suggest that when left unchecked texting and other widely popular methods of staying connected can have dangerous health effects on teenagers.

For heaven’s sake. The methods of staying connected do not have dangerous health effects. They stem from the same source as the dangerous health effects. It’s obvious that these teens’ general life quality causes drinking, drug abuse etc. It’s obvious that the same factors also lead to excessive texting. A desire to fit in and have friends. The study does NOT find that texting leads to drug abuse, it says that among the sample, less than 20% both text and abuse drugs, to simplify the issue a bit.

Fortunately, at least the journalists had the professionalism to dig deeper into Dr Frank’s so-called findings instead of accepting them at face value.

From what I’ve been able to read online, the CWRU is a fairly acknowledged university in the US. Therefore, it amazes me even more that they allow press releases in their name that are so obviously nothing but sensational rubbish.

Lesson to all us writers: DO check the facts. DO keep your headlines truthful. Otherwise, you risk totally losing your credibility.

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UPDATE December 12, 2010:

Out of curiosity, I emailed Christina DeAngelis at the CWRU’s Office of Communications on November 11 to get an inside view on this matter. By today (more than a month afterwards), no answer. Maybe they’re so ashamed they don’t want to show their faces…

#social media

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