Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Geelong in Australia and Dog Bite Reporting

Geelong is a city in the state of Victoria, Australia. There are approximately 160,000 people living in the city.

Their local paper recently reported about dog bites. It's a little confusing. In 2008, there were 32 dog bites requiring hospitalization, with nine resulting in further investigation. Around 72 dogs were declared dangerous.

The title of the article, though, suggests a significant rise in dog attacks. There were 46 dog bite investigations in 2009. That's going from 0.02% of people being attacked to 0.028%.

35 of the attacks were said to be caused by mastiff crosses, rottweilers, cattle dogs, german shepherds and crossbreeds who were registered as guard dogs.

Out of curiosity, I searched the paper's archives for 2009:
Two mastiff crosses maul a man
Mastiff mix nearly scalps man - stray dog
A Pit Bull Mastiff mix scratches a girl trying to save her smaller dog from the larger, loose dog.
German Shepherd, bred on a puppy mill farm, deemed dangerous after biting two people (sire is also people aggressive).
Reports on loose dog attacks at beach (Staffordshire Bull Terrier kills a young dog while a German Shepherd mauls a woman).

Those are the only archived reports. There aren't 46 articles on each and every attack. There are no reports on the cattle dogs or the rottweilers or even the registered guard dogs mauling people. There aren't reports on the other eleven attacks. It's isn't surprising. The news agency has been drumming up discussions about large, "dangerous" breeds with every article. It makes sense they would handpick the attacks they'd report. I'm surprised about not reporting the Rottie attacks (they're large) but unsurprised about the Cattle dogs and "crossbreeds".

What this highlights, though, is the reality about journalism. Editors and journalists handpick what they want to report on. I get that. It's logical, in some ways. But in more meaningful ways, it's irrational. All too often it creates a problem where none existed.

Dog bites aren't that common in Geelong. Most folks aren't going to encounter biting mastiffs or cattle dogs. And unless there are only 50-100 dogs in Geelong, I'd say the Geelong Advertiser could do better by not reporting specific attacks and instead focus on educating its readers on how to avoid aggressive animals.

Or not.

A sort-of scalping sells more than a "how to prevent a sorta scalping".


Retrieverman said...

This reminds me of the much ballyhooed "Summer of the Shark" in which the media reported about the "uptick" in shark attacks in the US.

But then it turned out that there were fewer shark attacks in that year than there were the year before:

You have to remember certain things about journalism.

1. Not everyone gets to be the big headline reporter.
2. Those who are not the big headline writers get the "animal beat."
3. To become the big headline reporter, you gotta sell copy.
4. Best way to to do this is be sensationalistic as possible.
5. Pit bulls and sharks already have a bad reputation, and neither has particularly good PR people (although this is changing thanks to pit bull advocates and films like Sharkwater).

All writers are like this to a certain extent. We like getting people to read our stuff. I'm guilty of maybe going a bit too sensationalistic in the early days, but I'm making up for it now.

When more than ten people read what you write, you really have to be careful what content you post.

Retrieverman said...