News downsizing affects reliability

Submitted by acohill on Mon, 12/01/2008 - 09:13

Michael Smerconish, a newspaper columnist, writes today about the Martin Eisenstadt hoax. Eisenstadt was the source of the rumor that Sarah Palin had mis-identified Africa as a "country," not a continent. The problem was that Eisenstadt was an entirely fictitious person, or as Smerconish puts it, the "Borat" of the news business. Both Eisenstadt and the Africa quote were entirely made up.

The larger point made by Smerconish is that the pranksters behind the hoax got away with it in part because downsized news organization no longer have the staff to check this kind of stuff. In the "old days," newspapers particularly had a fact checking staff that made sure that what reporters put in their articles was actually true.

The problem has been around since the beginning of the Internet and the iconic cartoon caption "On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog." The Internet is an information-rich environment, and a lot of news may or may not be factually correct. The mainstream media still tries to diminish blogs as "amateur" and "unprofessional," but errors in reporting can come from the "traditional" news organizations just as easily--and have, with the Eisenstadt incident as one example.

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