This week news media was abuzz with provocative headlines about Oreos being more addictive than cocaine. Stories about the Connecticut College study were reported widely by North American media outlets before igniting social networks like wildfire. Then, almost as quickly as the story had been published, a closer reading showed the headlines were half-baked.
With our demand to have breaking news at our fingertips, the up-to-the-minute pace of reporting these days will inevitably lead to mistakes. But there is a flipside. As Mark Jurkowitz, Associate Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism explains, “There is a self-correcting mechanism in journalism that’s quicker than it’s ever been.” In this article about how media got the Boston Marathon bombings wrong, he argues erroneous reporting therefore matters less than ever.
In honour of the Oreo’s sudden notoriety, here is a roundup of major media guffaws. Would you have second guessed these stories? Were you, like so many, complicit in spreading them? And how do you respond to media outlets in search of absolution? Erroneous reporting may matter less than ever, but it still matters.
The Boston Bombing – Last April, numerous US media outlets received a hand slapping from FBI agents for erroneously reporting that an arrest was made in the Boston marathon bombing. Following hundreds of inaccurate news reports, an FBI statement read, “Since these stories often have unintended consequences, we ask the media, particularly at this early stage of the investigation, to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting.”
Similarly inaccuracies followed the Sandy Hook Massacre. Business Insider called out some of the worst in this article. Cases like these can have obvious and severe consequences beyond eroding a media outlet’s credibility.
Rotten News for BlackBerry –Shortly after launching the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone, Blackberry was forced to contest a “false and misleading report” on high retail return rates. BlackBerry Chief Legal Officer Steve Zipperstein cautioned, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion about the merits of the many competing products in the smartphone industry, but when false statements of material fact are deliberately purveyed for the purpose of influencing the markets a red line has been crossed.”
Sloppy Science – Oreo addiction isn’t an isolated example of false or misleading news. This CBC blog post looks at how often incorrect or misleading science makes the headlines. “We, in the media, make a big deal over a new research finding, but when it turns out to be less exciting, or even wrong after future research, we don’t tend to report that.” Surprising results are far sexier than confirming the expected – and no one wants to admit they didn’t do their homework.