The Internet is a shallow and unreliable electronic repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills. ~Author Unknown
I don't know why writers continue to be amazed that there are actually false stories on the Internet, but they are. Case in point: Chris Gayomali over at The Week brings to light a couple of hot stories that are actually hot air. The first involves “the knockout game” wherein wayward youths affected by Grand Theft Auto or something come zipping up on unsuspecting people and whack them in the back of the head. Right after this was “exposed” as a hot new trend, a story came out that some sweet little old lady, after being smacked on the noggin, pulled a pistol out of her bag and wasted one or more of the miscreants.
It turns out that the murderous granny was a fiction, as pointed out by Snopes.com, an invaluable source of info on Internet hokum. The Snopes article does add, though, that there has been a wounding incident. But that incident involved a bunch of thugs with a taser, hardly the “knockout game” as described by most sources.
Gayomali's main point is that the knockout game is, in fact, a phony trend, a myth based on three – count 'em – three reported incidents since October, 2012. Well, you know the mainstream media; they're always a little late to pick up on this stuff.
His other example involves a waitress getting stiffed at a restaurant because she is gay. The proof was a copy of the chargecard receipt showing no tip with an insulting homophobic message written on it. The falsity of this was demonstrated by the Facebook page of the diners showing their copy of the receipt, which shows a normal tip being given, along with a copy of their chargecard bill showing the total charge for the restaurant meal adding up to the same amount as the price of the meal with tip.
Their copy of the receipt proves little to me since they could have written on that after the fact, but the bill would seem to confirm their side of the story. So why would someone perpetrate such a hoax? Well, I worked in the restaurant biz as a busboy in my father's restaurants, and I know people do some rotten things to servers. Most memorable was a family of ten coming in and ordering full meals for everyone, then leaving a $1 tip for a waitress who had done a perfectly good job. In those days, all a server could do was grumble to herself and to her coworkers. Now, they have the Internet.
I don't know how many of these insults-to-servers I've seen over the last few months, but I don't expect them to go away anytime soon because customers can be jerks. Perhaps these people did leave a perfectly good tip but they were jerks during the meal. If one member of the dining group is an ass, the peron picking up the tab will often tip nicely to make up for it. Perhaps in this case, the tipe wasn't enough to make up for it. Or maybe, as suggested in the article, maybe someone else got hold of the receipt and decided to have their Internet moment of fame.
Simple good reporting would have avoided either of these stories getting out of hand. It used to be called “journalism”, this business of writing for news media. The trouble is that, evidently, just about anyone can call themselves a journalist these days.
Take, for example, this screed penned for Gawker by some guy who got canned from Buzzfeed. First and foremost, the writer admits that he's something of ass to work with. He even goes so far as to list as the number one reason they fired him is that they shouldn't have hired him in the first place. The only question here should be, “What the deuce are you complaining about?” At any rate, at one point he mentions that one reason he got the boot is because he regularly challenged the editors. His defense for being an argumentative so and so is, “[T[hat's journalism.”
Say what? This is Buzzfeed, for crying out loud. Who would consider the content of what is almost entirely a humor site made up of goofy lists of things a journalisitic enterprise? That would make Cracked, Mad, and the Onion examples of jouranalism.
Of course, considering the number of articles from the Onion that have been picked up by the news media as real stories, perhaps they are.
At any rate, it appeared that majority of commentors had little sympathy for him. Several took issue with calling Buzzfeed a journalistic entirprise, thank goodness.
The initial definition of jouranalism according to Merriam-Webster is so general as to almost include something like Buzzfeed, but there's one below it that covers my thinking: Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation. What the guy formerly at Buzzfeed was doing was commentary or satire or humor or something, but it wasn't jouranalism. Most blogs aren't journalism either.
There's nothing wrong with just being a writer. We're all entitled to present our opinons in the mob scene that is the Internet. But let's not go putting on airs about being journalists. There are people paid to do that job, who are supposed to accurately report what's going on in the real world. Trouble is, the Internet is allowing them to be bloody lazy about it.
And that may just be the real crux of the problem.