Racism is alive and well at The Age

Why does this The Age article about a brawl in St Kilda have to keep mentioning that the brawlers were of “African appearance”? Is it supposed to help us by highlighting that people of “African appearance” are more likely to brawl so we can avoid them? Or is it supposed to help us identify the brawlers to police, because their “African appearance” is a unique identifying feature?

I note that the Age published an article about a different brawl in Melbourne Central a few weeks ago which doesn’t mention anybody’s appearance at all. The people in that brawl did not look like they were “African appearance”; surely that is just as newsworthy as the “appearance” of the St Kilda brawlers.

And just what the heck is “African appearance” anyway? When I did an image search for “Moroccan people” they looked very different to when I did an image search for “Malian people“, and that’s only two countries over! What about a person from, say, Andaman islands? What “appearance” would they be?

Human error? No, the government hates you!

I saw this article in The Age today, discussing an error that occurred with a bushfire warning system. Apparently, somebody screwed up and put test data in their live database, resulting in false warnings going out to large numbers of people.

Apparently this is the Government’s fault because they just don’t care about people. The Age quote the United Firefighters Union secretary Peter Marshall as saying “Either they are incompetent or they simply don’t care” (emphasis mine). The Age also use it as an opportunity to get quotes from the opposition about how terribly bad and evil the government is.

I work in IT, though I have had no involvement in this project. I would bet with almost 100% certainty that this is not because of any government intervention. The government probably had no idea that this was a risk. Some poor sucker has accidentally hit the wrong button somewhere and put test data in the live database. Chillax people, these things happen; it’s a little embarrassing, and the poor person is probably feeling pretty small right now. But it’s not conspiracy, it’s just human error (of course, it’s a bit simplistic and disingenuous to blame it all on one person – the real error is the weakness in the processes that allowed a single person to accidentally do this).

I once worked at a place that had a government client where a similar thing happened – somebody forgot to turn off the automated email functionality in the test environment, so when some test data was created a bunch of alarming emails went out to some very senior people. It wasn’t the government’s fault; it was just an oversight that was rectified by setting up more robust processes for managing the test databases.

When the government screws up, they should be held to account. But there is no need to get into a sensationalist panic about every little thing that goes wrong.

Exploitation of tragedy

Most days I read the Victorian section of The Age online (no, that doesn’t mean I am reading about Tony Abbott’s election policies, it is referring to the state of Victoria, not the era).

Today when I looked, there were 30 articles available. Nineteen of them were related to the tragic death of Jill Meagher (precipitated by the killer appearing in court for a pre-sentencing hearing). That’s right, nineteen.

Granted, what happened to that poor girl was a tragedy (and I really feel for her family, having to go through such a terrible loss). However, there is definitely a line between a respected newspaper reporting on a news item, and a slowly dying newspaper clutching at any tragedy or hint of moral outrage to exploit in a desperate attempt to stay relevant.

They even had an article talking about how it caused a “burst of outrage in the twittersphere“. How is seven quotes from random peoples’ tweets a “news” article? The mere fact that people have opinions is not news. The fact is, if you give enough people the ability to quickly and easily voice stream-of-consciousness opinions to the world, then of course you will get a bunch of people bleating their outrage over every little thing that briefly crosses their mind (heaven help us if they actually bother to start a blog!).

I wonder how long I will keep reading The Age online.