Anatomy of a Hoax, or "How The Web Makes Journalism Lazy"
Yesterday, many news sources, beginning with the Huffington Post, reported that a banker left a 1% tip on a check at a restaurant to make some kind of point about his wealth and to insult lowly paid restaurant workers. This story raised ABSOLUTELY NO RED FLAGS among these news outlets.
Then the website Smoking Gun did incredible, undercover investigating reporting that required hours of research, tons of money and all the manpower they could muster. No, actually, all they did was CALL THE RESTAURANT. Using the information on the picture of the receipt that had been plastered all over the web. You know, like you'd expect A REPORTER TO DO.
It took all of a few minutes to discover the story was a hoax.
Sadly, this is how the media operates these days. In this fast-paced internet-driven world, a successful news story is only successful if it appears first or second. The drop off after that (in terms of the click thrus and page reads their article will get) is huge. So news organizations jump on interesting nuggets quickly, sometimes Twittering about things before they even know what's going on, just so they can claim they "scooped" the story.
This is how "new journalism" works, in 6 easy steps:
1. An interesting rumor or unverified story appears on Twitter or Reddit, lazy journalists' web sources of choice.
2. News organization writes a quick summary, links to the original post, and says something like, "this has not been verified yet, but isn't it cool? Share with your friends!"
3. News organization never attempts to verify the story, instead, spends the majority of its time pushing the story out through its various social media arms and adding the story to the evening's television news scripts.
4. Hours later, the story is debunked by a blogger, a site like Snopes or the Smoking Gun, or an enterprising three-year-old with Googling skills.
5. News organization issues an "update," while leaving the original story up because that way it still counts towards their readership metrics.
6. William Randolph Hearst chuckles, Edward R. Murrow rolls over.