October 06, 2008

Did the truth have a major heart attack?

The web is abuzz with news of the reported heart attack of Steve Jobs (Apple CEO), not merely because it was a heart attack, but because it was reported by an unsubstantiated article on a web site, that was picked up and went global. As a result Apple stock dropped 5% within 20 minutes until the company were able to issue a statement denying the heart attack.

A recent article I read has now started to question the validity of allowing 'news' articles to be posted on web sites and is decrying the lack of professional journalism in this sphere. As the author says:
Today's extraordinary popular Web 2.0 delusion is the idea that anyone
without any journalistic training or experience can accurately report
the news. A cure for this delusion is a visit to CNN's iReport.
A few minutes with these citizen-lunatics should convince even the most
deluded critics of mainstream media that professional journalism is
more valuable than the "reporting" of amateurs.
But, hang on a minute. Aren't professional journalists the same people who work at sites like 'The National Enquirer"? Doesn't Rupert Murdoch employee professional journalists at The Sun and The News Of the World here in the UK? Aren't these examples of publications that have printed scandalous (and some times libelous) articles about celebrities? The Sun is famous for creating a headline which said "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster". Of course he hadn't, but the so-called professional journalists who wrote it had taken their information from Starr's publicist. Without checking it they printed it on the front page. This incident actually boosted Starr's popularity and he didn't sue, but the UK courts try regular cases where newpapers have produced reports which have later been found to be inaccurate or damaging. The most recent example was the News of the World which posted photo's (and video) of Formula 1 head Max Mosley engaging in acts which it described as have 'Nazi connotations'. Mosely sued the newspaper and won. Surely the journalists in this case were professional? Surely they checked their sources? Surely they didn't just print anything that they wanted?

If so, why was the case thrown out?

Apparently the one girl they interviewed who claimed it was Nazi-based later changed her mind. They didn't corroborate the claim with any of the other girls who were there, nor did they check the reliability of the girl making the claim.

So tell me, how is that more professional than some guy writting a story - on a web site which bills itself as an "unedited" and "unfiltered" news resource - which inaccurately claims a heart attack on a major figure?

I'm not condoning what the iReport contributor did - spreading a rumour about the ill health of an individual can never be condoned - but what I am trying to highlight is that any reporting has to be taken with a grain of salt. Take the recent vice-presidential debates for example. Everyone saw them. They were the most watched programme of that evening. Yet no-one can seem to agree who 'won'. TV news stories, newspaper articles, internet buzz and social messaging all 'report' differing versions of what happened. Are they all wrong (or, more particularly, are half of them wrong)? No. But it does highlight the old adage that things are different depending on your point of view.

Remember that next time you read the news.....

1 comment:

  1. America's mews media really takes the biscuit, and makes the silly Sun headlines and quasi-racy allegations look funny by comparison.

    The recent best example is the reference to the "terrorist fist bump" employed by Obama in acknowledging his wife.

    There was absolutely no basis for such a description and it is typical of the ridiculous nature of news partisanship in that nation (Fox... dear god... I've never seen such partisan news).

    I had a fantastic laugh at how often the American Ryder cup team employed the EXACT SAME gesture to celebrate and gee each other on. To describe it as a "terrorist" gesture is just plain racist. If he was a nice white boy they wouldn't even consider this label.