Boothe's 4202 Blog

How the Internet and Technology is changing Editing

Sloppier than fiction

with one comment

Case Study 1:

Nothing brings out over exaggeration and tall tales in people like stories about animals. After all, Dad’s lone catch following a long day of fishing was never really that big and Bigfoot likely wasn’t the one responsible for making strange noises at your campsite.

Still, when I read an old story from a newspaper in Alaska titled “Eagle Snatches Dog While Owner Watches” there was something deep down in me that wanted the article to be true, despite its silly nature.

Of course, it wasn’t factual. The reporter had just one named source, a gas station attendant, whose recollection of what happened was funny but suspect due to its lack of key details. The dog’s owners were also only identified as a couple from Georgia. If you report on a story this sensational, there has to be more sources than that.

In this case, the reporter and editor needed to ask themselves:

  • When did this happen? And if the dog snatching didn’t happen the day before publication, is the story still viable?
  • If there was more than one witness, why don’t we go after additional interviews as well?
  • Does the attendant have any record, such as a receipt, showing that the Georgia couple was, in fact, at the gas station? How about video surveillance footage perhaps catching the incident or aftermath?

This story isn’t an isolated mistake in journalism. The pressure to write entertaining and interesting articles is immense, so it is understandable for a reporter to be enthusiastic when a promising opportunity arises. Several years ago, a former UF student even succumbed to the demand and foolishly resorted to plagiarism, according to an Alligator story.

In the future, computer software may help editors and reporters keep stories honest by singling out facts much like a spell-checker does. But in the mean time, journalists can make do by using Quora, a social-networking tool that functions like a question and answer site.

If a reporter is holding on to a story they feel is questionable or thin on facts, he or she can ask other media professionals their opinion through the site. On the topic of sources, I asked the question, “If you are a reporter, how many corroborating sources are needed to verify a public occurrence?”




Written by jboothe

January 25, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Good
    Of course, it wasn’t factual. WELL, WE DON’T KNOW THAT FOR SURE
    Re Quora, did you think to ask if it was possible for an eagle to grab a dog.

    Ronald R. Rodgers

    January 25, 2012 at 8:47 pm

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