The Traps of Online News.

4 May

Wow, what a week in news. Obama went from taking the piss out of himself and publicly humiliating Donald Trump on Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Ball to announcing that public enemy number one had been killed on Sunday night. Twitter exploded with both of these stories. Journos loved that Obama was still down to earth enough to joke about his poll numbers and show a his ‘birth video’ to a room full of his harshest critics. The speech was so brilliant, I showed my dad on YouTube.

Then, just a little over 24 hours later, he held a press conference confirming that Osama bin Laden had been killed by American forces in Pakistan. People ran to the streets in New York and Washington to celebrate the death of the most wanted man on earth who’s evaded capture/death for almost a decade. Leaders all over the world, including our own Julia Gillard, held similar press conferences congratulating the U.S.A on finally ‘getting the bastard‘.

I found out about the news on Twitter. Mainly because ABJ has turned me into a Twitter junkie, and that’s currently what I spend most of my time looking at, instead of the radio/tv. But I found myself wanting more information than 160 characters could give me. ABC News 24 was immediately switched on, but after watching their hopeless coverage plagued with technical difficulties, I went in search of a better source. What better source than the President himself? Streamed live on the web, straight from the White House, no ads, no watermarks, no audio problems. I watched Obama deliver one of the best speeches I’ve seen in my life (President Bartlet in the West Wing takes the crown for best un-real speeches. God I wish my life was scripted).

Then back to Twitter to see what media around the world was making of it. Then the rumour mill went crazy. I won’t go into it, as details are still emerging and I don’t want to jump to conclusions and have to swim my way back like I had to earlier this week.

[View the story “Quote Hoax – Martin Luther King Jr ” on Storify]

I saw the quote on a friend’s Facebook early in the morning, and then googled it to get the longer version off a quotes website (it has since been removed)

‎I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King Jr

What I didn’t do was check when the quote was added to the website, which I later discovered was just 8 hours before I posted it. So I tweeted it and then Simon Corbell, ACT’s Attorney General, retweeted it. Oops. Never a good look when a journalist doesn’t check their facts. I’m only comforted by the fact that lots of other people posted it that day, and I still agree with the sentiment, no matter who wrote it originally.

I found a blog that offered some good advice on how to handle history making events, which suggests refraining from offering your personal opinion at all. Report the facts, and don’t make a comment (good or bad).

I guess I’ve learnt that just because the whole world seems to be saying something, doesn’t mean it’s true. Even though online news road can be fun, fast-paced and ground-breaking, it can also be plagued with potholes and ditches to trip you up and make you look like a fool, the trick is to pick yourself up quickly and hope no one saw.


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