Journalism Warning Labels

Contents Not Verified

It seems a bit strange to me that the media carefully warn about and label any content that involves sex, violence or strong language — but there's no similar labelling system for, say, sloppy journalism and other questionable content.

I figured it was time to fix that, so I made some stickers. I've been putting them on copies of the free papers that I find on the London Underground. You might want to as well.

A sheet of stickers.

The articles these stickers are attached to are used strictly as an illustration: I'm not passing judgment on the specific articles or journalists. Hopefully that'll stop anyone claiming I've libelled them.

Statistics, survey results and/or equations in this article were sponsored by a PR company.

Let's start with the obvious one. It seems like half the content of the tabloids are made up of this: bits of 'research' put out by a PR team with the questionable backing of a cash-strapped university somewhere. Ben Goldacre talks about this much more competently than I ever could.

I'm not sure how these newspapers would fill their pages without these.

This article is basically just a press release, copied and pasted.

Oh yeah, that's what they use. I forgot.

Medical claims in this article have not been confirmed by peer-reviewed research.

The Daily Mail's attempt to classify everything as either 'causing' and 'curing' cancer is already well documented, but there are plenty of wacky medical claims in all the newspapers. Ooh, look, some healing crystals.

This article is based on an unverified, anonymous tipoff.

This sticker's mainly for celebrity articles: Starsuckers did a good job of showing just how little verification is frequently done.

To meet a deadline, this article was plagiarised from another news source.

To be fair, newspaper journalists have far too little time to do far too much, particularly with the steady collapse of print circulations. If a story breaks just before the deadline, they may just copy it: but it seems only fair to require labelling in a case like this.

This article contains unsourced, unverified information from Wikipedia.

...and we all know what happens when you do this.

Journalist does not understand the subject they are writing about.

Now this'd be fine, if journalists were willing or able to call upon expert sources to verify claims, and then to quote their responses. Otherwise you get front-page headlines about cures for cancer based on small irrelevant studies on mice.

Journalist hiding their own opinions by using phrases like 'some people claim'.

More common among pundits and comment writers than newshounds, but still worth flagging.

To ensure future interviews with subject, important questions were not asked.

Is there some celebrity with a wacky religion they're really touchy about? Don't worry: no-one on the gossip pages will dare ask them about it. They can't risk being blackballed.

Includes content written by Richard Littlejohn.

Enough said, really.

Make your own!

For the UK

If you'd like your own set, grab an A4 13-by-5 sheet of stickers (they're labelled as '65 per sheet' or Avery L7651), and print out this PDF template.

For the US

If you're in America, then Scott has kindly put together a US version that fits on Avery's Letter-size 5160 labels or equivalent.

Around the world

Newscrud by Eric Donovan lets you apply similar stickers to web sites.

They've also been translated into several languages. I've not been able to independently verify translations: in some cases, jokes and references may change across cultures; the translators may also have added their own views. These jokes are not necessarily mine.

If you'd like to translate, here's the original Adobe Illustrator file!


And if you can think of any others, drop me an email or talk to me on Twitter.

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