May 19, 2009
Leave it to a resourceful student to test the validity of today’s real-time news. Following the recent death of renowned French composer Maurice Jarre, Dublin University student Shane Fitzgerald posted a lovely, but phony quote on Jarre’s Wikipedia page. And the rest, as they say, is embarrassing.
Fitzgerald wanted to test how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news. Even though Wikipedia administrators quickly removed the quote’s lack of attribution, some already had used the quotes in Jarre obitutuaries around the world.
So is fact checking a lost art? In a 2005 journalism panel, Rebecca Blood, author of The Weblog Handbook, stated that bloggers are writing subjective pieces while journalists are trained professionals with a differentiator being that real journalists do fact checking. But it’s hard to fact check when timing is everything. Because of the very digital media world in which Fitzgerald was testing, competition among news outlets is outrageous. A recent memo to Wall Street Journal staffers stated the top priority is to be the first to report on something. Success will be measured in seconds.
It took a college student less than 15 minutes to strategically post a fake quote about someone. An entire month passed before he fessed up to The Guardian of Britain, the only publication to admit its editorial failing . “If I hadn’t come forward, I’m convinced that quote would have gone down in history as something Maurice Jarre said. It would have become another example where, once anything is printed enough times in the media without challenge, it becomes fact,” said Fitzgerald.
For the media, Fitzgerald’s test definitely was a pop quiz. He gets an A for audacity. The media get an E for egg on their face.