Last month featured (less than) fifteen minutes of fame for Botox Mom. So far this month, we’ve had the Gay Girl in Damascus that turned out to be a married heterosexual man in Edinburgh. Then it turned out that the lesbian news site editor (s)he had been flirting with online wasn’t a lesbian female either, but in fact a straight, married construction worker in Ohio. Next up, I suspect, may be the revelation that Barbie buying her seven-year-old daughter a boob job voucher was nothing but a publicity stunt by human Barbie Sarah Burge to promote her plastic surgery company.
Great! If I wasn’t already critical enough towards everything that pops up in my news feed, now I find myself taking a rather cynical approach to all of it, as well. And that’s not a good time to see tweets linking to news stories of a woman claiming to have been stopped by police for cycling in a short skirt.
I’m not having this. Seriously, you can NOT expect me to believe this to be true. In fact, I’m pretty confident in thinking this was either a throw-away comment on Facebook that got out of hand, or a deliberate hoax conceived in a bad attempt at (guerilla) marketing. From the NY Daily News article:
“NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said: ‘Whether this story bears even a modest semblance of what actually occurred is impossible to establish without being provided the purported officer’s name and getting his side of the story.'”
There are no witnesses either, there’s just her story, and a picture of her posing, smiling, on a shiny brand new designer bicycle that isn’t commonly on sale in New York; did she bring it with her on her short visit to the city? Oh wait, there’s another clue in the Daily News article:
“As general manager of a Dutch bicycle company, [Jasmijn] Rijcken was in New York to attend the New Amsterdam Bike Show and hopped on her wheels that sunny day to experience biking in New York City first hand.”
Sure. And she thought it would make for some nice (free?) publicity to pose for a picture, post that picture to her company’s Facebook page with a story wicked enough to appeal to tabloid editors’ imagination? And I am supposed to believe this actually happened?! Well I’m sorry, but I don’t. But hey, it makes for a good story and there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? And while Jasmijn Rijcken has no proof for her version of events, I have no way of proving it never happened, either; I can, however, offer plenty of reasons to be sceptical in respect of the authenticity of the story.
As a blogger I have the privilege to self-righteously spout my views – and I don’t claim to do anything else here but exactly that, albeit with due care and attention. However, I expect serious press outlets like the ones linked in this post to do a bit more than that; to do some fact-checking, ask difficult questions, assess something’s actual news value, you know, those things that in my opinion may be expected from paid, professional journalists (as opposed to amateur bloggers). (And no, the word allegedly should not be put about ubiquitously as some Get Out Of Jail Free card.)
This sexily clad cyclist story hit various serious (albeit, in some cases, tabloid-type) news outlets in recent days, and we’re in June. The lady’s Facebook update reporting of this story with the accompanying picture is dated May 23, 2011; that’s nearly three weeks ago already, so this isn’t exactly current, is it? In fact, the story probably wasn’t even current at the time of said Facebook update, as this year’s New Amsterdam Bicycle Show in New York took place on April 30, and the incident with the police officer is said to have taken place around this date (some articles state it happened on April 30, others say it was May 3). This makes this week’s reporting on alleged events rather outdated and harder to check for factuality. Aside from that, the weather in New York around April 30 may not even have been particularly suitable for a bike ride in a short skirt with temperatures in the area apparently no higher than 67°F/19°C (average weather conditions around that time of year would certainly not entice me to pack a short skirt for a trip to NYC).
Furthermore, if Miss Rijcken felt indeed as offended and discriminated against as she claims to have felt, it makes no sense to me that she waited three-or-so weeks to make that Facebook post expressing how upset she supposedly was. Also, why didn’t she obtain proof (such as the police officer’s name and/or badge number) and seek people to corroborate her story (particularly considering her claim that she’s not the only one this has happened to)?
What I am trying to make clear is this: Serious, commercial news outlets currently face a lot of competition from bloggers. If they want to stay ahead of bloggers, perhaps they should distinguish themselves through quality and reliability, rather than resort to publishing opinion pieces and outdated (non-)stories or lower their level to badly checked (or perhaps even unchecked) expressions of (mis)information. Moreover, they have a duty of care towards their (paying) readership, as well as to society as a whole; people unfamiliar with the press and media industry, may be insufficiently aware of how press coverage may affect their own integrity, that of their business and that of other people or organisations involved (in this particular case the NYPD).
Secondly, I want people to realise the possible consequences of posting what they might think is an innocuous accusation on their social media profile; you never know who may pick up on your story and take it beyond your control.
Overall, I just want professional (i.e. paid) journalists and editors to stop treating their (potential) audiences as idiots and do the decent job of offering value for money by engaging in proper journalism. I am sick and tired of whiny mantras of how the internet is killing newspapers when perhaps a lot of the decline of the newspaper industry could be blamed on bad journalism.
In the meantime, I hope that non-journos reading this blog post will understand the importance of maintaining a critical approach to everything they read in the papers.
READ THE FOLLOW-UP TO THIS BLOG POST HERE