Kissing Trust Goodbye

by , Dec 13, 2013, 7:31 AM
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A story in the New York Times this week explored the problem of "news" sites so rushed to "break" stories that they often post items that are works of fiction. Gawker, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Mashable were all guilty of running stories that turned out to be false or gross exaggerations.

Part of the problem is that these sites know that if they are first with something truly weird and appealing, they will get the viral hit and their page views will soar. 

But the shocking thing was how little being accurate mattered to any of them. “We are dealing with a volume of information that it is impossible to have the strict standards of accuracy that other institutions have,” Gawker told the Times. “The faster metabolism puts people who fact-check at a disadvantage,” added The Huffington Post. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

Otherwise respectable websites post all sort of stupid, prurient, man-bites-dog stories because they know they have massive pass-along appeal. If there is no story there, they invent one. Sites that have nothing more than a photo of a celebrity walking her dog, might promote it with a headline along the lines of "Miranda Kerr Shows Off Ample Cleavage in New York."  Eyeballs by the thousands follow.

Let's write that off as appealing to the lowest common denominator and focus more on stories that are just dead wrong. For years, most folks have chosen to overlook that much of what pops up in their browsers is utter nonsense. They never bother to fact check on Snopes or wait to see if a reputable news organization posts the story. They are in a hurry to post or pass along -- asif they might get a trophy or a free Starbucks drink for being so prolific. All this does is validate those who don't lose much sleep over accuracy.

Some of this trend may seem harmless, but it puts enormous pressure on those who do care about getting the story right. You can be sure that the traffic reports for Gawker, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Mashable are eyeballed with angst at the New York Times, WSJ, CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, Reuters, etc. You can see their concern in their own efforts to get readers to post THEIR stories to social media. But it is rare that they publish something utterly without fact (“60 Minutes” Benghazi report notwithstanding). And if they do, they do a fair soul-searching to prevent it again. Not so, I think, with Gawker, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Mashable. To them, picking up an occasionally untrue story is just the cost of doing business. Speed and salaciousness are more important.

In September 2012, Pew Research Center found only 6% of respondents in the 18-24 bracket said they had read a newspaper in the previous day. Last year, 28% of adults aged 18-24 got news from the Internet only, while 29% said they consumed no news at all -- higher percentages than for any other age group, according to Pew.

When you grow up in a world where you get your news mostly from the Internet (and almost never read a newspaper) who is going to help you separate the wheat from the chaff? Certainly not those who traffic in viral chaff.

8 comments on "Kissing Trust Goodbye".

  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 10:54 a.m.
    1. Proves again and again, people don't have enough to do than to spend time on these garbage sites. 2. The trajectory of facts into the gutter will kill us.
  2. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.
    Content has become the new fast food. The good news is, the more people are duped the more what is old will become new again. You just have to sit this s*** out and be grateful Snopes exists in the interim.
  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 11:54 a.m.
    There is nothing like being the first to report the wrong spin on a story then have to eat the words, yumme...
  4. William Hoelzel from JWB Associates
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 12:34 p.m.
    We don't see any serious regret or shame from sites that publish news that turns out to be false, and we don't see any serious regret or shame on the part of people who share it with friends. If nobody loses face or reputation when they spread this stuff across the internet, I'm not sure there's any incentive to end it. It gets pageviews for the sites, it gets attention from friends, and -- oh, yeah -- I just found out that it's not true. "Never mind!"
  5. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 12:44 p.m.
    William, you are right, there is no shame in being wrong...
  6. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 1:29 p.m.
    There is TOTAL shame in being wrong if your job is deliver the news. I can't really believe there's any disagreement on this.
  7. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications
    commented on: December 13, 2013 at 3:42 p.m.
    What is SO perplexing about all of this is that fact checking has probably never been easier with Internet access to every kind of information. If they would just slow down and stop pandering to social media.....
  8. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications
    commented on: December 14, 2013 at 4:10 a.m.
    It seem that some stop checking or don't check facts when the story meets or seem to support a point of view. Heard any good news supporting Obamacare lately?

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