A big part of my work as a freshman writing instructor seems to be convincing students that I really do mean it when I explain that Googling to “find quotes” to support an opinion you’ve already committed to paper is not the same thing as doing academic research with peer-reviewed sources. I also find that newbie journalism students have to be reminded that it’s not a news article if you refer to what “some people may say”.
Several years ago, it was common for bloggers to crow about catching lazy reporters, often from local TV news, who had fallen for obvious hoaxes. In 2002-2003, for instance, I blogged about suspicious stories involving bananas dying out, blondes dying out, and excursions to hunt naked women with paintball guns. Anyone with the slightest experience using the internet to research should have smelled a rat.
A rat like this guy…
My plan was without doubt simple, and maybe it was great as well. The death of the French composer Maurice Jarre was reported in true Sky News fashion in the very early hours of March 30th.
I immediately grabbed my laptop, went to Maurice Jarre’s Wikipedia page, clicked the edit button on screen and proceeded to lay the trap for my unsuspecting prey, the journalists.
“One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack,” I wrote into the Wikipedia entry. “Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head and that only I can hear.”
This was a totally fake quote and neither Maurice Jarre, nor anyone else, has ever been on record as uttering these words.
Quality newspapers in England, India, America and as far away as Australia had my words in their reports of Jarre’s death. I was shocked that highly respected newspapers would use material from Wikipedia without first sourcing and referencing it properly. — Shane Fitzgerald