There’s a great line that we often hear in newsrooms. It’s meant as a joke, but some non-newsies might wonder.
The line goes: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
The implication is that a reporter will ignore the facts in order to create a more interesting story, a story that will attract more readers than one based on facts.
Having become addicted to Facebook and newspaper discussion boards, I’m beginning to think the line is universal rather than limited to newsrooms. As I follow, in particular, the discussion at the sex abuse scandal connected in some way to Penn State, I marvel at the number of posts that are factually wrong. I marvel more when the originator is corrected and stands by his original posts.
The standard of proof is very low, unlike in any newsroom I ever worked in. Newsrooms, especially when working on controversial stories, have a two-source rule. You need at least two independent sources saying the same thing before you’ll consider putting the information in a story. And the sources can’t just be anybody.
There was a post the other day claiming that a certain downtown State College development project included a penthouse suite for former Penn State president Graham Spanier. I asked for a source. The originator said one of the developers told him that. Nothing on paper. Just hearsay.
A couple of weeks later Penn State, which had committed to two floors of office space (not a penthouse), backed out of the project and the Spaniers coincidentally purchased their own condo in a neighboring township.
That did not stop the posts about the penthouse.
Of course, the “facts” about Joe Paterno and what he did when informed of a former assistant’s behavior are as fluid as the Mississippi River. The ones that suit a person’s disposition toward Penn State or Paterno are the ones that get posted, followed by “corrections” from others.
I have enough examples to fill a book.
Now there’s an idea. A book.
When I see misinformation repeated on a discussion board, I am reminded of a quote attributed to Mark Twain (but which I can’t verify): Rumor is halfway around the world before truth gets out of the starting gate.
And that was before the Internet!
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