need for fact-checking

New-Media Blunders Stress Need for Fact-Checking

February 26, 2009 02:03 PM
by Anne Szustek
Fact-checking is sometimes overlooked in the rush to report news first. But recent mistakes made more prominent by online word-of-mouth show the importance of accuracy.

On the Web, Errors are a Virus

John Sanders, who reported on technology stories and created promotional videos for Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL, spliced coverage of a runaway monkey into a video of Fox News anchor John Gibson talking about Attorney General Eric H. Holder.

Gibson said, while analyzing Holder’s comments that Americans still have trepidations over discussing race, “I’m talking about Eric Holder and his comment that this is a nation of cowards.” But Sanders doctored the clip to make it appear as if Gibson went on the air to proclaim “I’m talking about Eric Holder and his bright blue scrotum.” He then put the video on YouTube—but “without the prior knowledge of consent” of the station, according to a statement from WBAL director of public affairs Wanda Draper.

Sanders made the video for his own amusement. But when staffers at the Huffington Post saw the video they didn’t realize it had been doctored and linked to it on the Huffington Post site, where it became a viral phenomenon—ostensibly billed as an authentic recap of Gibson’s coverage. Sanders maintains there was a disclaimer alluding to the satirical bent of the video, although the Baltimore Sun writes, “no such disclaimer appeared on the video on the Huffington Post—the one that went viral last week.”
As of Tuesday, Sanders no longer works for WBAL. And new media sensation The Huffington Post was called out for its apparent lack of fact-checking.

Print publications such as newspapers and magazines, given the nature of the medium, have more time to research the veracity of a story—and to go back and change content before it is released to the public. But the viral effect to which new media outlets aspire can backfire when recantations are necessary. So many readers may have seen the inaccurate content—and perhaps forwarded it on to others—that they may not be inclined to go back and read the correction or retraction.

A certain old media bastion has also fallen prey to the whims of online content. The New York Times recently ran a piece about “Dating a Banker Anonymous,” calling it a support group of sorts for 20-something female New York upstarts feeling depressed over the demise of their significant others’ finance jobs.

“In addition to meeting once or twice weekly for brunch or drinks at a bar or restaurant, the group has a blog billed as ‘free from the scrutiny of feminists,’” writes The New York Times, “that invites women to join ‘if your monthly Bergdorf’s allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life.’”

It turned out that the blog was written tongue-in-cheek by a group of friends satirizing the gold-digger ethos for their own amusement. On Wednesday, The New York Times printed an editorial note saying that the blog’s creators “originally told The Times that about 30 women had participated, but since publication, they have said that all involved were friends. … Had the nature of the blog been made clear at the outset, the article would have described it accordingly, not as a support group.”

The DABA story certainly made for “good blood-boiling copy,” as new media publication The Business Insider pointed out. “Too bad it was all a scam.”

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Related Topic: Borat puts television station employment at peril

Dharma Arthur has said she was tricked into allowing Borat, the bumbling Kazakh reporter alter-ego of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, to appear on a Jackson, Miss., morning show. During his live appearance, the faux journalist hugged the weatherman and said he had to go “urine.”

According to the Associated Press, Arthur’s life then entered “a downward spiral” and by the time the “Borat” movie hit theaters in 1996 she was no longer working at the TV station.

Reference: Finding credible information online


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