Friday, June 25, 2010

Be Ready To Evacuate Or Beware Citizen Journalists?

Recently I wrote about people's ever-increasing need to be wary of news stories they read. In the race to be first, sometimes accuracy gets lost in the rush.

And that's just among mainstream media. Many more so-called news sources exist, whose authors who lack the knowledge or interest in backing up their stories with pesky little things like facts.

Here's a great example.

Today a Facebook friend posted a link to an article that suggested that officials were ready to trigger plans to evacuate Tampa Bay because of the Gulf oil spill.

The article reads as if composed of a dash of fact and two cups of conjecture. It doesn't cite any officials saying that they're considering evacuating the area. Where's the story coming from? I dunno. The article does not even include a byline. I posted on my friend's page, "I wish the article cited sources. As written, it reads like speculation."

My friend had shared the link from another person. That person replied with a link to another article with a nearly identical story, as if the fact that someone copy-and-pasted the article adds credibility to its contents.

At least this version, which appears to be the original, had a byline. But the author is either a terrible writer or an awful reporter. She lets a reader infer that because "plans are in place" for an evacuation that those who could order one have their finger poised over the "go" button.

In a reply on Facebook, I wrote, "Is there a plan in place? I sincerely hope so! There is a plan in place for evacuation from a hurricane too. But there is no evidence cited that those who could order an evacuation have even considered it."

The article appears on, which pays writers on a pay-per-click basis. Whether the writer inadvertently failed to label a commentary as such or whether she deliberately distorted facts hoping the story would go viral, I don't know.

It was clear from the comments on my friend's Facebook page that more than a few people were willing to take the story at face value, believing what "they" say without question who "they" are or even if they exist.

As I concluded my Facebook reply, "Please, please, be skeptical of what they say. They are usually just making stuff up."

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