Healthy skepticism — in blogging and in Big Iron reporting for a metro daily — is a necessary tool to have at all times.
Take yesterday’s YouTube embed, allegedly from Baltimore’s tourism office, suggesting that Baltimore, the city, is safer than you’d think from watching The Wire on television.
My initial reaction was shock at the thought that someone in Visit Baltimore could make such a colossal mistake in judgment to sell the city on the stacked-up backs of the dead. But after a few minutes, and a second watching, my BS meter pegged. Nobody could possibly be that clueless, even in Baltimore.
Apparently, this makes me more skeptical than several reporters in town. The City Paper took the bait. And so did Peter Hermann of The Sun, who got snared by another piece of the same hoax, a fake Mayor’s site.
It was all a hoax by british blogger Alex Hilton. Peter Hermann, to his everlasting credit, corrected his original and wrote at length about what happened.
I hate to say it but this all happened simply because of a Reporting 101 failure: neither reporter bothered to verify it.
When I saw the YouTube video yesterday morning, my second action (after sputtering an some unprintables) was to DM both the Visit Baltimore office and the person who manages their Twitter account and ask whether they had actually created the video. I asked at 8:06 a.m. and had my emphatic answers — No! — a half-hour later.
I was able then to change my blog entry from “this can’t possibly be real, right?” to a note that it was, in fact, a hoax.
The old newsroom saying was “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
If she says it on YouTube or elsewhere on the internet, that goes double.
Dennis O'Shes saysAugust 30, 2009 at 5:39 am
I’ve always loved that old maxim from City News Bureau in Chicago. At UPI, where we lived for beating the AP, our version was, “Get it first, but first get it right.”