Unnecessary spin in the Catalonia coverage | The Knife Media

 AP Images

AP Images

(The Knife Media) The news of Spain asserting direct control of Catalonia after it declared independence is significant — it’s the first time the country has invoked Article 155 of the constitution since the region last gained full autonomy in September 1978. The media outlets we analyzed on this story did convey that these events are remarkable, but some did it in a data-based way, while others used more spin and opinion. Here’s one comparison:

Madrid reacted to the Catalan parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence on Friday by firing the regional government and dismissing the head of the local police force. (The Guardian)
Spain may be taking control of the autonomous region of Catalonia and fired its separatist government — plunging the country and Europe into crisis — but locals are undaunted about what lies ahead. ( NBC News)

The Guardian’s rendition sticks to the facts, allowing us to quickly understand what happened and why. On the other hand, NBC’s version says these events effectively “plung[ed]” the entire continent into a “crisis” — did they? These terms are subjective, and the outlet doesn’t provide a definition for them that we can objectively evaluate. If you had to defend the idea that Europe is in “crisis” because of these events, you may be at a loss.

Here’s another similar example of a spun sentence:

Madrid’s hard-line stance was announced shortly after regional lawmakers illegally declared an independent republic, setting up ashowdown that escalated the biggest political crisis the country has faced in decades. ( The New York Times)

Do spin and opinion provide an added value that data-based reporting does not? The distortion in NBC and the Times may create an impression about what’s happening in Catalonia, but it doesn’t offer measurable data that helps to better understand the story.

Spin terms (like those in red) and opinion distort data because they insert a personal or subjective interpretation of events. In this case, the impressions these mechanisms create may not be that far off — this may be Spain’s most challenging political situation in the last few decades — but the outlets can say that with data. A shift to reporting that favors data, rather than opinion and other forms of distortion, can provide readers with the substance they need to better understand a story and its possible implications.

Written by Leah Mottishaw and Ivy Nevares

Edited by Ivy Nevares and Jens Erik Gould

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