The Media party are in a race to publish unverified claims which are deemed newsworthy

In an extraordinary full-page editorial this week, the Washington Post said Donald Trump was unfit for president because he treated facts with contempt.

“Throughout the campaign, he has unspooled one lie after another and, when confronted with contrary evidence, he simply repeats the lie,” said the paper.

To prove the point, the Post’s fact-checking service went though his nomination acceptance speech and exposed 25 key claims as untrue in a video compilation that runs for eight and half minutes.

But while setting the record straight is a good thing, only a fraction of those exposed to the false claims of strident politicians would have found out the fact-checked truth later on.

These days, unverified claims which are deemed newsworthy are rapidly reported and amplified by the news media before being verified properly – or at all.

And it’s not just happening overseas.

Tom Currie hit the headlines here recently when almost every major media outlet reported he had quit as a barista in Auckland to travel New Zealand to play Pokemon Go. The BBC, CNN, The Guardian and many more around the world ran the story too.

But when the Dominion Post’s Nikki McDonald checked Tom Currie’s Facebook page, it wasn’t quite as reported:

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We have local media running their own rumours as news.  The NZ Herald have been pushing the idea that Hilary Barry is taking over Breakfast at TVNZ.  Why?  Because the current Breakfast hosts were seen to be having drinks after work.  The remainder was… let’s be charitable… inferred. 

The rapid spread of misleading information online was a major issue raised at the World Journalism Education Congress held in Auckland this month at AUT.

In her opening address, Professor Divina Frau-Meigs from the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in France cited research showing false information spreads much faster online now than the truth can be established.

“It takes two hours to confirm a rumour that is true, but 12 to 14 hours to debunk a false rumour,” she said. “But the biggest spreaders of unverified rumours are the media.”

Bona-fide news organisations now report early, unverified information more often, using hedging language or attributing the report to other sources. Corrections can then be made later without having to be accountable for any errors.

“Poor fact-checking and the huge pressure for scoops means journalists behave like young people online,” Prof Frau-Meigs said bluntly.

Perhaps it is time to change the old slogan used in the news business from “First with the news” to “First to be accurate”.

There is nothing wrong with reporting on developing news stories.  Whaleoil does this with major world events by posting caveats and updating information as it comes to hand.  That’s OK, and that is not going to change.

But to see two people having a drink and then spinning a total work of fiction around it is another matter altogether.

Whaleoil broke the WTO China “complaint” story and clearly indicated it hadn’t been able to verify it yet.   That’s OK too.  In the end, it turns out the minister responsible wasn’t being very honest with the public, let alone his own boss.  So even “verified” stories need adjusting as they go along

Why do you read Whaleoil?   It is largely a matter of trust.  It has built a relationship with its readers and it rarely takes them for granted.   It treats the readers like they have a brain and shows them respect.

When you see the likes of Rachel Smalley and Jack Tame heading hefty political, global or financial issues, it is hard to believe their respective news organisations have respect for their audience.

Trust takes a long time to build up, but is eroded very quickly.   Major news organisations don’t seem to be placing much value on it anymore.

 

– Colin Peacock, RNZ


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