Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When is a journal "journalism"?

I absolutely love this story. Have you heard of Shane Fitzgerald? By now you should have, but if not: he's a college student in Dublin (right) who was concerned about the fact-checking (or lack thereof) of current media. The recent death of film composer Maurice Jarre gave him a chance to illustrate his concern. He invented a quote, attributed it to Jarre, and placed it on the composer's Wikipedia page. The administrators of the site promptly removed it, not because of suspicions it was fabricated, but because there was no attribution for the quote. Fitzgerald would not be thwarted, however, and placed the quote back on the page after its removal. (He apparently had to post the quote on Jarre's page three different times, as the Wiki people kept removing it.)

During the period this fake quotation was present on Jarre's Wiki page, it was picked up by "dozens" of bloggers and newspaper websites, and included in their announcements of Jarre's death. No word on how many dozens passed on using the quote because it could not be verified.

Here's the first fun part. All this happened last March, and weeks went by without anybody discovering the hoax. With the impatience of youth, Fitzgerald finally realized that his quote was so convincing, no one was going to recognize it as forgery; he couldn't contain himself, so he spilled the beans. Since his revelation, the media sites in question have, for the most part, removed the quote from their online obituaries, but only one outlet, The Guardian of Britain, has apologized for its slipshod fact-checking.

Here's the next fun part. The blog you are reading was one of the "dozens" which used the fabricated quote. If you pop by the AAvist site regularly, you know that I often write a little obit when someone of interest to me dies. I don't do this for everybody, just people in whom I have an interest, or someone I particularly admired (or despised). In fact, many of my obits contain tidbits about how or why this dead person intersected with my life. I met Charlton Heston once, for example; I attended a taping of Bea Arthur's Maude, and I loved Paul Newman's salad dressing...well, you get the idea.

My Maurice Jarre obit did the same; I spent as much time reminiscing about my mother in the article as I did writing about the dead guy. But here's the part really tickling me now. Yesterday, a comment was posted on my Jarre article, by someone courageously calling himself "Anonymous," who took me to task for "journalistic sloppiness." I hooted with laughter when I read it, then just had to check to see if Shane Fitzgerald himself had found my site. No, he had better ways to waste his time. The comment came from (get this) the University Of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts. Some student (or teacher!) at this school, presumably in the journalism department, has mistaken my personal blog for an attempt at journalism! Anyone who reads even one of my entries can tell these pages are an outlet for me to write about the life of an actor, and includes my own experiences, my reactions to various shows I have seen, and sometimes my reactions to certain stories in the news. But it ain't "journalism".

I wonder what Professor Anonymous teaches? He is clearly on a mission to dump some vitriol on media outlets who don't do their homework. That's a laudable cause, but I'm wondering how anybody could read even ONE of my entries and think I am shooting for "journalism." Even if this Mr. Courage only read my Jarre obit, he would surmise that I write for pleasure; as I said, I not only wrote about Jarre, I wrote about my mother in the same blog entry. I even included a cute little video clip from Youtube, of a mite playing my mother's favorite Jarre composition. What kind of "journalism" is that?

I'm giggling so much over this, that I am leaving my Maurice Jarre posting intact, including the fabricated quotation (which I never attributed to Jarre anyway), and am also leaving the snippy comment sent from that courageous sleuth, Anonymous, from the University of Michigan. I'm hoping it may attract some other poor schnooks who will confuse my ramblings with "journalism," sloppy or otherwise.

I'm tickled so pink, I may pirouette.