How to write a news article

It’s unfortunately common that journalists are always so eager to seek out all sides on an issue. It’s this sort of blind following of protocol that has resulted in the anti-vax crowd rising to the prominence it has, or the fact that creationists will often get to spout lies concerning recent scientific discoveries. And do the journalists ever challenge those lies? Not really. It’s apparently enough that we hear what two groups think, even if one of those groups is incompetent.

That’s why I really like this article by Ashley Yeager of Duke. Without simply presenting us her point of view, something for which we have plenty of bloggers and the like, she informs the reader of what happened at a particular event – and she doesn’t ask for the needless opinions of dissenters.

People filed into Page Auditorium on Oct. 3 carrying The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution tucked under their arm. The scene was typical of a lecture given on a college campus, except the instructor was the controversial and outspoken British biology writer Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins’ lecture used no props or PowerPoint slides. For 45 minutes, he simply talked his listeners through his latest book, mixing scientific discussion with scathing jabs. He cited evidence for his argument that “we stop calling evolution a theory and call it a fact.”

He spoke about the family trees that linked all animals and how some would argue that “God deliberately deceived us.” Maybe God did, Dawkins conceded. But if so, “I’m not sure if that is the kind of God you want to worship,” he said.

“You have all the arguments on your side. (Students) may say well my parents, say or my preachers say this. Well, damn your preacher, these are the facts.”

You know when you watch a DVD of a TV show and it has that weird cut where you feel like you’re about to watch a commercial? Well, this is the point in this article where most other journalists would go to some priest or well-known creationist for a dissenting view. I can just feel it. But Yeager doesn’t do that. Here is the next paragraph.

One audience member asked Dawkins if he and religious groups that advocate for many of the same causes as his foundation — natural disaster relief, education reform, among others — could ever work together. No, Dawkins said. At a fundamental level, the two groups’ views would have them debating much more than aiding others, he said.

She just continues on with her account of the event. I love it. This is a good example of how journalism should be done.

Just because there is another side doesn’t mean it’s a side worth hearing.

Religion-based violence continues in Nigeria

The religious-based violence has only been intensifying in Nigeria.

Funerals took place for victims of the three-hour orgy of violence on Sunday in three Christian villages close to the northern city of Jos, blamed on members of the mainly Muslim Fulani ethnic group.

While troops were deployed to the villages to prevent new attacks, security forces detained 95 suspects but faced bitter criticism over how the killers were able to go on the rampage at a time when a curfew was meant to be in force.

Media reported that Muslim residents of the villages in Plateau state had been warned by phone text message, two days prior to the attack, so they could make good their escape before the exit points were sealed off.

Survivors said the attackers were able to separate the Fulanis from members of the rival Berom group by chanting ‘nagge’, the Fulani word for cattle. Those who failed to respond in the same language were hacked to death.

Don’t be fooled by the use of a language barrier. That only acts as a tool for what is yet another case of religiously-based violence. Remove religion from this situation and these acts of violence have no real label, hardly a root.

“Nigeria’s political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis in Jos.” [said a Vatican spokesman]

There is no permanent solution to violence. There are only best solutions. In this case, it is necessary that religious divides be destroyed – and the only way that will happen is either if one group absolutely dominates the landscape or if both groups dissipate. There is nothing like the organizing power of religion and bizarre beliefs (i.e., no depictions of a misogynistic asshole or, say, belief in Jew zombies – and inconsistent beliefs, at that) to get a whole pot of hate and violence stirring.

However the archbishop of the capital Abuja, John Onaiyekan, told Vatican Radio that the violence was rooted not in religion but in social, economic and tribal differences.

“It is a classic conflict between pastoralists and farmers, except that all the Fulani are Muslims and all the Berom are Christians,” he said.

Fulani are mainly nomadic cattle rearers while Beroms are traditionally farmers.

That must be why there are so many battles in the western U.S. where cattle herders and farmers cross paths. Wait. Wait. That’s right. There’s a homogeneity to the religion of America. And when there were ‘battles’, they were highly localized and not based upon religion.

This whole herders v farmers argument is hand-waving bullshit. No one is denying that there are almost always a number of factors that lead to violence, but that is a far cry from being able to discount religion’s culpability, especially in this situation. Nigeria has a long history of violence based upon unnecessary ethnic divisions that were primed and exacerbated by religion. It has always been religion that has intensified Nigerian history, not merely fence-cutting and grazing in the wrong place. In fact, one of the major obstacles to better governance in Nigeria is the massive number of political parties as organized by religious affiliation. (And this is probably still better than what we can expect from Iraq in coming years.)

And what the archbishop above is omitting is that Nigeria is still very much an agrarian economy. Nearly 2/5 of the population lives directly off the land. Doesn’t it seem just a little suspicious that it is where Christians and Muslims collide that the violence is occurring?

Calling all writers

One of the things I told Christopher Maloney was that because of his actions, he made himself the cover story to the paper I put out around campus (and he lives in my area). As it turned out, Andreas Moritz was the quack who got my blog suspended. But that doesn’t matter. Christopher Maloney, despite what he keeps saying, played a critical role in working and helping Moritz. Besides that, woo is woo. Even if Maloney never made a public statement, he still deserves to be exposed: He peddles unproven treatments at the expense of real science and real medicine.

But it isn’t easy doing it all on my own. I occasionally do have a contributed article or two, but I write most of the material (plus formatting and all that annoying jazz). But I’ve realized…I currently have the leftovers of the PZ horde (of which he is high priest, haven’t you heard). Surely there are plenty of excellent writers out there. In fact, in reading all the blog posts supporting my plight and fighting against quackery, I know there are plenty of excellent writers out there.

I won’t pay you (because it costs me money to produce everything in the first place), but I can mail you a copy of the paper once it comes out. And don’t think you need to limit yourself. I’ve got the Maloney topics covered, but other articles on naturopathy, homeopathy, alternative medicine in general, and even on seemingly random topics are welcome (though if you want to do random, discuss it with me first). Articles should only be about 650 words in length.

Anyone who wants to contribute should send me an email at

Oh, and Andreas Moritz is still a stupid, dangerous man.