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Journalism
On May 13, 2009 the Ahwatukee Foothills News ran an article about Vinayak Gorur, a local guy who, at the age of 21, had become the youngest ever sous chef at the upscale Compass Restaurant in downtown Phoenix. But a few days ago, the paper ran an apology, admitting that Gorur wasn't really a sous chef at the Compass. Gorur had invented the entire tale. Why isn't clear.

A few things evidently went wrong in the paper's fact checking process. First, they never called the Compass Restaurant to verify Gorur's claim. Instead, the reporter interviewed someone (whose phone number was supplied by Gorur) who claimed to be Gorur's boss. It's not known who this person was.

Second, when the paper asked Gorur if they could take some photos of him at work, he said it was too dark there and convinced them to take photos of him preparing food at home. That should have set off their b.s. alert, but instead the paper agreed to send a photographer to his house.

The reporter, Krystin Wiggs, wrote:

I may be a young and relatively inexperienced reporter, but the other reporters in my office have never come across a scenario quite like this one. Not one reporter in my office could think of a time in their careers when a source had made up such an elaborate hoax and then conned a reporter.

Cranky Media Guy comments: "From personal experience, I can tell you that when you bullshit a reporter who is too lazy to do any fact-checking, it's always described later as an 'elaborate hoax.'"
Categories: Identity/Imposters, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 20, 2009
Comments (14)
Posted by Peter in the forum:
TV station airs Lost as Air France crash footage
A BOLIVIAN television news channel has been left red-faced after falling for a hoax that saw it claim pictures from the hit TV show Lost were actually the last moment of Air France flight AF447 before it plunged into the ocean on June 1. Source

This confirms my theory that should a suitably dramatic picture of a major event not exist, one will be created. It's because our culture craves visual images. And hoaxers are always ready to supply what we crave.

For more examples of this phenomenon, see the gallery Imagining Disaster in the Hoax Photo Archive. In particular, the photos that circulated after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, supposedly taken by an Israeli satellite, but really screen shots from the movie Armageddon.
Categories: Entertainment, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 23, 2009
Comments (1)
Irish student Shane Fitzgerald conducted an experiment to test whether journalists blindly rely upon wikipedia as a source of information. Shortly after composer Maurice Jarre died, Fitzgerald placed a false quote on the wikipedia page about him, claiming Jarre had said: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."

Sure enough, the quotation soon appeared in newspapers throughout the world. Why is this no surprise? [Yahoo]
Categories: Journalism, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu May 07, 2009
Comments (9)
Should the LA Times have run an ad designed to look like a regular news column on its front page? (The ad was for an NBC news show Southland.) Critics, who include quite a few of the paper's own staffers, argue that it crossed a line of journalistic integrity. The paper's defenders point out that all newspapers are losing money nowadays, so whether you like it or not, expect to see more ads disguised as news columns in the future. [Editors Weblog]
Categories: Advertising, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 13, 2009
Comments (10)
A recent article in The Sun (and we all know how diligent The Sun is about fact checking) claimed that a woman, while using Google Street View, spotted her husband's car parked outside another woman's home. Now she's filing for divorce!

But Matt Platino, of the Idiot Forever blog, claims he hoaxed the sun into printing the story:

I emailed The Sun, first with the email address sashaharris289@gmail.com. I shot them a “frantic” note:

Hey Sun,
I need your help. One of my mates caught her husband cheating by using Google Street View. He’s a pig. Also, this really shows how the addition of the Street View is hurting people. I think this is a good story for you.
Cheers,
Sasha

I picked the name Sasha Harris because Sasha sounds somewhat British and Sasha Harris is the prostitute that was involved with Sham-Wow Vince. Also, note how I used words like “mates” and “cheers”. This lulls the Brits into a false sense of security. Unfortunately, I couldn’t logically work the phrases ” ‘Ello Gov-na!” or “mind the gap” into the email.

Then, to back up the story, I emailed the sun from the email address Mr.Mark.Stephens77@gmail.com to add a source. I sent them a picture of the said offending street view. The email was boring so I’m not going to post it, but The Sun quickly responded. They thanked me for the information and asked me if I was Mark Stephens, the media lawyer. I shrugged (even though they couldn’t see me shrug) and basically responded “yeah, sure”.

Apparently I hit a streak of good luck. I got the name Mark Stephens from one of those internet random name generators and went with it. I guess Mark Stephens is a known media lawyer in Britain.

I also got lucky because The Sun is a bunch of fools. The picture I sent wasn’t even a street view.

There's been no word yet from The Sun about their side of the story.
Categories: Journalism, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 31, 2009
Comments (6)
Two days ago the Daily Mail published an article describing an unnamed "Salzburg insurance company" that seems to be practicing a form of astrological discrimination in its hiring. The company is said to have placed this ad in newspapers:

We are looking for people over 20 for part-time jobs in sales and management with the following star signs: Capricorn, Taurus, Aquarius, Aries and Leo.

When accused of discrimination, the company responded: "A statistical study indicated that almost all of our best employees across Austria have one of the five star signs." And a spokeswoman later followed up with this argument: "When an employer considers star signs and says: 'I want to only hire Pisces,' for an example, it must be assumed that within this group of people born under the sign of Pisces there are old and young people, women and women etc. It does appear like a certain limitation, but it is not discrimination."

The story has now begun to appear in other papers and websites, although the Daily Mail appears to be the sole original source. So is there any evidence the story is true? Not that I can find. My German-language skills aren't too good, but I can't find any sign of the story in papers such as the Salzburger Nachrichten.
Categories: Journalism, Pseudoscience
Posted by Alex on Fri Feb 06, 2009
Comments (8)
The NY Times apologized for printing an email from the Mayor of Paris in which he criticized Caroline Kennedy's bid for Clinton's senate seat. You see, it's easy to put a fake email address in the "From" field, so it's the Times's policy to always check that the person who seems to have sent them an email actually did so. But they didn't do that in this case, and now the Mayor is denying he wrote the email.

The Times is "reviewing procedures" to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Which probably means some underpaid intern is getting yelled at. Link: NY Times. (Thanks, John!)
Categories: Email Hoaxes, Identity/Imposters, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 23, 2008
Comments (2)
A Broomfield, Colorado man got his name in the local newspaper for claiming he had named his new son Carter Barack Obama Sealy. He also said that his two other children were named Brooke Trout Sealy and Cooper John Elway Sealy. Supposedly he had a deal with his wife. She got to choose the kids' first names, and he got to choose their middle names.

The children's grandmother spilled the beans on the father, notifying the paper that the names were not real. The guy's wife explained that the fake names were her husband's idea of a joke. She added, "My husband's an idiot."
Categories: Birth/Babies, Journalism, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 21, 2008
Comments (5)
If you were lucky enough, you might have been able to get your hands on one of the approximately 1.2 million fake copies of the New York Times that were handed out today, mostly in NY and LA. Otherwise, like me, you'll have to try and buy a copy on eBay.

The paper, dated July 4, 2009, declared "IRAQ WAR ENDS" on its front page. Articles inside described the repeal of the Patriot Act, and the indictment of Bush on high treason, among other things. There was also an accompanying website.

The size of the print run was impressive. Must have cost a lot of money. The Yes Men are taking credit for it.

The NY Times, on their City Room blog, quoted Alex Jones, author of a history of the family that controls The Times, as saying, "I consider this a gigantic compliment to The Times."

Also from the City Room blog:

There is a history of spoofs and parodies of The Times. Probably the best-known is one unveiled two months into the 1978 newspaper strike. A whole cast of characters took part in that parody, including the journalist Carl Bernstein, the author Christopher Cerf, the humorist Tony Hendra and the Paris Review editor George Plimpton.

And for April Fool’s Day in 1999, the British business executive Richard Branson printed 100,000 copies of a parody titled “I Can’t Believe It’s Not The New York Times.” Also that year, a 27-year-old Princeton alumnus named Matthew Polly, operating a “guerrilla press” known as Hard Eight Publishing, published a 32-page spoof of the newspaper.

Links: Yahoo!, BBC
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 12, 2008
Comments (6)
China recently launched its third manned mission to space. Oddly, the Xinhua news agency reported the launch hours before it occurred. This would be understandable -- news agencies routinely prepare copy about major stories in advance of the event itself -- but the article included detailed dialogue between the astronauts:

"One minute to go!' 'Changjiang No.1 found the target! ...
"The firm voice of the controller broke the silence of the whole ship. Now, the target is captured 12 seconds ahead of the predicted time ...
"The air pressure in the cabin is normal!
"Ten minutes later, the ship disappears below the horizon. Warm clapping and excited cheering breaks the night sky, echoing across the silent Pacific Ocean."

Xinhua explained that the story had been posted early "due to a technical problem." Must be a glitch in their time travel machine. Link: news.com.au
Categories: Future/Time, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 26, 2008
Comments (2)
The story of the Montgomery County (Texas) Bulletin Plagiarism scandal, so far:

1) A reader pointed out to Slate.com writer Jody Rosen that an article he had written about Jimmy Buffett had been plagiarized by Mark Williams, a writer for a small weekly Texas paper, the Montgomery County Bulletin.

2) Rosen contacted the editor of the Bulletin, Mike Ladyman, who pretty much blew him off.

3) Rosen did some more investigating and realized that Mark Williams had plagiarized almost EVERYTHING he wrote for the Bulletin. And a substantial amount of the rest of the content of the Bulletin also came from plagiarized sources.

4) Rosen published an article in Slate about what he had found.

5) Mike Ladyman, in response, decided to cease publication of the Bulletin.

It's interesting to read the statements of Ladyman and Williams. They truly seem to feel they're the injured parties in all of this. (Cognitive dissonance at work.) Ladyman, for instance, complains that Rosen didn't handle the process "professionally." And Williams sarcastically congratulates Rosen for "breaking an already fragile soul."

There seemed to be some question about whether Mark Williams was actually a real person, or an alter ego of Mike Ladyman. However, Williams talked to NPR's On the Media, so apparently he is real. (Thanks to Joe Littrell!)
Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Aug 10, 2008
Comments (8)
Derrie-Air claims to be the world's only carbon-neutral luxury airline. From its website:

Welcome to Derrie-Air, the world's only carbon-neutral luxury airline, where you don't have to choose between living the high life and saving the planet. Nine out of ten scientists agree—we need to reduce our carbon emissions or perish from the face of the earth. Air travel is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions and global warming. Derrie-Air will be the only airline that plants trees to offset every pound of carbon that our planes release into the atmosphere.
But not only will we do our part to protect the environment, we will expect you, our passengers, to do your part as well. The magic comes from our one of a kind "Sliding Scale"—the more you weigh, the more you'll pay. After all, it takes more fuel—more energy—to get more weight from point A to point B. So we will charge passengers based on how much mass they add to the plane. The heavier you and your luggage are, the more trees we'll plant to make up for the trouble of flying you from place to place.

The reality is that Derrie-Air doesn't exist. It's a fake company dreamed up by Philadelphia Media Holdings, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. In addition to creating the Derrie-Air site, they also ran Derrie-Air ads in their papers as a marketing test "to demonstrate the power of our brands, in print and online, to drive traffic awareness -- in this case for a brand that doesn’t exist and is fictitious." More details in Editor & Publisher, and on MSNBC.

I predict this will become a case of satirical prophecy, in that it won't be long before airlines actually are implementing measures such as charging by the pound. (Thanks, Rebecca)
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Journalism, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Jun 06, 2008
Comments (7)
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