Dissecting a terrible news story, which unfortunately will influence people anyway

After my extremely bizarre/glorious post from yesterday, I figured I should write something sane and sensible today. I was just reading a really terrible article from CBS, about beards and how they affect your health. I’m usually pretty happy with the stories I see published by CBS, but this one is just horrendously written and uninformative, which news articles never should be.

It’s a very short article with a captivating title: “Could a beard be bad for your health?” I was immediately interested because I am a bearded man. Clearly, based on the title, I knew the article wasn’t going to be anything especially scientific or informative, but I figured it would simply summarize the conclusions of a recent study or something.

But it did not summarize any recent studies, or tell me anything interesting. Nor was it coherent. It was a really terribly written piece. The title turned out to be mere clickbait, and in this day and age where few people ever read past the headline, and fewer still actually read to the end of the article, I was extremely disappointed that what should have been the lede was one of the final sentences:

“Wash [your beard] regularly. Keep it conditioned with hair conditioner or beard oil. Those are the two simplest things you can do.”

To me, that’s obvious, but everyone needs to learn the basics somewhere, and that’s what I’d expect from a mainstream news outlet.

But this article didn’t have the basics, except for that one quote, and instead had some of the worst clickbait-y and uninformative “reporting” that I’ve ever seen. So let me break down why this article is terrible.

The headline “Could a beard be bad for your health?” is awful. If it were relevant to the story, it would be fine, but it isn’t. The headline gets your attention, but then is completely unsupported by the rest of the content. As it is, the headline pointlessly suggests that having a beard is unhealthy, in a desperate attempt to scare you into clicking on the link to the article.

Now let’s move into the content of the article. Any good piece of journalism should be immediately captivating. This is not. It starts, as many news stories do, with the location, written like this:

New York — 

Ordinarily, it’s fine to start a story that way, except this story is about beards in general and New York has nothing to do with anything. There is no beard news in New York right now, and even if there was, this article doesn’t mention it at all.

Let’s move on. The very first sentence reads, “Beards are the hottest style trend for men right now, but there could be a downside.” While this isn’t a terrible sentence, it simply restates the headline, except even less attractively. The first sentence in any article should complement the headline, not repeat it.

Here’s the next sentence: “As CBS2 New York’s Alice Gainer reports, there are a few health issues a man should consider before he starts growing a beard.” Again, it simply restates what was already said in the headline, this time adding attribution. Except that’s not really attribution. Attribution is when you quote someone like an expert, or someone relevant to the story. By mentioning the name of the journalist, it makes it clear that the author of this article didn’t even do any original reporting, but is merely pretending to have done original reporting by telling another reporter’s story, which is extremely awkward.

If you are a reporter, then the main source for your story cannot be another reporter who actually did the work. It’s basically plagiarism. Not quite (after all, the author did mention who all this information came from), but writing about what another reporter wrote about is not how you do journalism.

Okay. Let’s recap where we are right now. We have pretty much read the same thing 3 times now (the headline and the first two sentences) and can already recognize that the article is borderline plagiarism. Not a single piece of information has been presented yet.

The next sentence, a boring quote from a doctor, again retells the exact same thing that has already been repeated multiple times. “A beard could become problematic.” At this point I was screaming in my head, I KNOW!!! JUST TELL ME SOMETHING, ANYTHING!!!

Then we are presented with another dull quote from the doctor: “I think things get trapped in there, so bacteria can be trapped in there and can grow as a result.”

Are you kidding me?! “I think” is not needed in the quote, as it makes the doctor sound totally unsure and incompetent. They might as well have asked a high 17-year-old about beards and they could have gotten a quote like this. Also, just by removing the words “I think,” which would not be unscrupulous at all, the quote would be much better. It still wouldn’t be a good quote, but that would make it better.

We finally get some information in the next sentence. “Beard bacteria can be transmitted to the mouth and possibly cause illness. It could also be transmitted to others.” Okay, now I have finally read something interesting. Unfortunately, we are halfway through the article and this should have been the lede. But I’m digressing. This sounds like a problem. I’ve never heard about it before, but you have my attention. So, this is something to worry about?

But then we get to the first quote I mentioned. “Wash it regularly. Keep it conditioned with hair conditioner or beard oil. Those are the two simplest things you can do.” By including sentences like this, it completely undoes the headline and all the other sentences that built up the idea that having a beard is unhealthy. It turns the article into complete rubbish.

There are a lot of other stylistic problems with the article, but I am already getting close to 1,000 words on this blog post, so I won’t go into any further detail about how terrible this article is.

I want to end this post by saying that, even though it’s obvious to me that this article is garbage, many people are going to read the headline (without reading the article) and believe that having a beard is unhealthy. Some people will read the article too, but won’t be able to recognize the terrible writing style and realize that the whole thing is rubbish, and so they too will believe that having a beard is unhealthy.

It is particularly problematic that such awful reporting is published to CBS, a source that most folks would consider trustworthy. Having a good reputation makes a news outlet especially influential, which in this case is really unfortunate because the article is so awful.

Bottom-line. Never, ever jump straight into believing what you hear on the Internet. Read more about it, do your own research, and come to your own conclusions. If you thoughtlessly trust every source you see, then you’ll turn into these people:

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