I was disgusted by the biased and poorly-researched coverage of the problems associated with urban chickens, as stated in your October 2 article. It was proof to me that objective journalism, which is supposed to be about information, is dead. If a simple story about urban and backyard chickens can’t be written with any amount of journalistic integrity, then journalism is indeed dead. In its place are reporters like you, who prefer to stir the pot for their own gain, play on fear and prejudice, and add sensationalism rather than context to make a piece more attractive to readers, even if it sacrificed accuracy.
I first heard about this story when you posted in the Pittsburgh chicken-related groups on facebook, trolling for tips and information to support a story you planned to write about how chickens were being dumped at area shelters. You felt the need to add in your post that you were “(pro-chicken, by the way).” At least one poster responded that this issue had been explored in the media before and was not found to be the crisis that was claimed. Others pointed out the chicken placement assistance given privately by area organizations. After publishing your piece, you removed the posting – maybe because you knew all along that your piece would be biased against raising chickens. Why else would you need to hide the fact that your research came from facebook posts that you solicited under false pretenses. That move shows some real integrity!
While you have mentioned some facts and sources, you didn’t bother to get the context right. While it is true that “Chickens can live between eight and 15 years,” most die of natural causes before they are five or six. While “Backyard Poultry magazine estimates that the accuracy of sexing chicks is 50-50,” professional sexers at hatcheries (where most urbanites get chicks from) average 90% accuracy in standard size chicks (bantams are not sexed). Purchasing pullets from a breeder increases those odds to 99%, since breeders are familiar with the breeds they raise and will not sell what the customer does not want. As to the “dramatic increase” in chickens being turned into shelters, you should have provided some context: How many are hens vs. how many are roosters? The majority of sheltered fowl are roosters, because they are not permitted by zoning and are not going to lay eggs. How many began their lives as “Easter chicks” unaffiliated with any “foodie” movement? Or cockfighting operations? How many came to area shelters from farm rescue operations? There were a number of birds brought into a Pittsburgh shelter from a farm in Ohio this year, so what part of your ‘dramatic increase’ in discarded chickens do they make up? How about the 52 chickens (and 10 other fowl) seized from a suspected slaughter operation in June of this year? Are they part of your “dramatic increase” too?
These were all things you could have mentioned. A responsible journalist would have made this piece about information, not sensation. She probably wouldn’t have done the majority of her research on facebook and in an issue of Backyard Poultry magazine. A responsible journalist would have informed the public about why the “dramatic increase” exists (if it actually does) and what can be done to avoid it. She would not have played on the prejudice that people have about urban chickens and the trendiness of the topic just to get a story out. There are ways to avoid getting roosters, ways to deal with old laying hens, ways to deal with birds that folks just don’t want anymore – ways that do not involve dumping at shelters. A responsible journalist could have tempered the sensation with information, and you, Ms. Server, did not do this. Maybe you are not familiar with saying that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing right.
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