Wikipedia: 1, Journalism: 0

Subject: Fwd: Wikipedia: 1, Journalism: 0 To: Hi, Greg, Check this out. Really fascinating study of the use of Wikipedia by professionals. PFW Patricia Woodard Hunter College Library [Originally from Sarah Laleman Ward to Library Staff A real-life example of the need for source evaluation and fact-checking:]

Irish student hoaxes world’s media with fake quote

My Response to P. Woodward (a confession of sorts):

Thank you so much.

Now for my confession. When I was teaching at Rutgers, one of my students self-published this book, Cheating 101 (which was eventually translated into several languages). He asked me to read it and I did, and I offered suggestions about how he could pitch it to what eventually became the nation’s news media. And he did follow my advice, thus, spinning/deceiving NYT, Washington Post, ABC, NBC, CBS and on and on and on. The very big and the small.

We concluded that because they didn’t take his “story” seriously – they did news stories but not hard news stories about the book, sort of as a light, interesting feature – they neither questioned nor challenged his comments the way they might have had if they had considered his “story” one to be taken seriously. Thus, he got great play.

We did two TV shows on affiliates, one in Philadelphia (where he was from) and I’ve forgotten the other. Not news shows. But the content of those shows spilled over into the news reporting which went on for several years. He eventually stopped doing interviews because the really big TV news-type feature shows poked fun at him.

That’s poke, not expose.

He got so much exposure that the Rutger’s Provost Office contacted a dean who contacted my department chair (Department of Journalism and Mass Media in the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, New Brunswick Campus) and told him to discredit him (and not because of the hyperbolic spin but because of worry that Rutgers was being embarrassed). Which they tried. There was a big discussion at a department meeting about how to discredit him. But that’s another story — about Academic Freedom.

However, he became a multimillionaire – he got out of the journalism business (worked for two Jersey Newspapers before he left the business) and started his own private investigation company. And he emailed me a few years ago that Rutgers invited him back to campus to bestow some kind of honor on him.

I’m mulling over writing a longer post which would include names.

I, however, did not say the following to P. Woodward. It’s generally known in journalism circles that small daily and weekly newspapers pretty much will print press releases verbatim – without checking for authenticity or accuracy or clarification. The usual explanation has been that they don’t have enough staff to do what the “big” newspapers do. Thus, seasoned media manipulators can reasonably expect an unscrutinized, free ride when they send their press releases.

And then, of course, there is the broadcast practice of VNRs, Fake TV News, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

When I worked at my first newspaper in Rochester, New York, the Democrat & Chronicle – a “big” newspaper with sufficient staff – I learned that one of the tasks of the city editor back in those days was to make sure that press releases from Kodak were printed as soon as possible after they arrived at the news desk. The releases had to be checked, of course, that is, someone would have to call up the PR operation of Kodak to check for clarification and accuracy and, perhaps, for followup comments, but that press release material had to be published ASAP or there could be hell to pay.

And then, of course, there was this story of several years ago of this beginning reporter at the Newark Star-Ledger, Newark, New Jersey, who called an agency that had sent his newspaper a press release. The reporter did what I had been told to do with Kodak press releases (my first few months on the job), yet he was subsequently fired when someone from the agency contacted the news desk at the Ledger and asked, so to speak, what the H was going on. That is, why that reporter had had the nerve to call for a fact check instead of the newspaper printing verbatim.

And then, of course, there was this issue of Star-Ledger reporters working in for the organizations that were on their beats , like transportation and utilities. I learned this from one of my students who told me that her father, whose beat was utilities, like PSE&G, also worked in the PR office of PSE&G.

“No way,” I told her in my office on the News Brunswick campus of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. [Quotation Marks for Effect] 

“Dial this number,” she said. [QMfE]

And I did, and he answered the phone in the PR office of the utility even as he was working his beat for the Ledger. That is, he answered, [QMfE],“Star-Ledger” in the PR office of his second gig. I hung up without talking to him. It would have been distasteful as well as sinisterly outrageous to out him in front of his daughter in my office.

And I told that story years later to Dede Murphy, who was a big shot editor at the Ledger but before that, many years, of course, she had won a Polk Award as a reporter for the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, where she started on her editor’s path, and she said, [QMfE], “You think that’s telling. Well, what about this one,” and she related this account of one of her reporters who also worked for an utility company, his second job, even as he worked his first: That was, like my student’s dad, from the PR office where he was bivouacking for his second job.

She wanted to fire him but couldn’t. Management would let her.  And, so, the Irish student able to pull off a Wikipedia scam because some reporters/editors at news organizations didn’t check the facts? My response if someone had asked for a comment: [QMfE] “Why not contact  Judith Miller – as well as her former editors/copyeditors/wordsmiths for comment?”

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