The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK


January 23, 2013

Media should better filter out information, provide context

ENID, Okla. — Manti Te’o finally sat down for an exclusive interview with Katie Couric. He admitted he briefly lied to the press after discovering his imaginary girlfriend wasn’t real and was part of an elaborate hoax.

Everyone went along for the ride on this “catfish” story. Te’o’s bishop was even fooled by the Lennay Kekua flimflam, according to the South Bend Tribune.

When ESPN received an initial tip, the network held the story to verify the facts. Besides holding to journalistic standards, ESPN mainly wanted to land an interview with Te’o.

In the meantime, Deadspin beat everyone on the story. Deadspin, a sports website with the motto “Sports News without Favor, Access, or Discretion,” didn’t care about access.

Although ESPN didn’t break it, the network was finally granted access. Interestingly, ESPN’s talk with Te’o was documented with photos and audio, but no video. (By the way, what’s the difference between an off-camera interview and a print interview?)

Now that the smoke has cleared, what have we learned from this bizarre and baffling debacle? It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback this controversy.

Consider the social media factor: Another woman’s likeness was used for the imaginary girlfriend’s Twitter account without her consent or knowledge. And Te’o claims he repeatedly tried to contact Kekua via Skype and FaceTime to no avail.

Technology is great, but let’s use some old-fashioned common sense here. Otherwise, you should consider changing your Facebook relationship status to “imaginary.”

With the information explosion, it’s the best of times and worst of times in the digital age. More than ever, we need filtering journalists to discern the good information from the bad information, providing verification and context.

“What editors approved this story?” Karl Idsvoog, an associate professor of electronic media, asked on his blog. “What questions did they ask? How does a piece with one red flag after another go forward? Journalism requires verification.”

When you live in glass houses, you shouldn’t throw stones. God knows we all make mistakes.

Members of the media have egocentric tendencies at times. Journalists are competitive by nature, but the race to get the story first shouldn’t beat getting the story right.

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