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Nothing’s sacred in the online jungle

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009 by Jon Clements

What has happened, in recent hours, to the sanctity of death and accuracy in its reporting?

First, OK! Magazine publishes a “tribute” edition to the critically ill, reality TV star, Jade Goody, who is – at time of writing – not dead.

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Though the move has apparently not received public condemnation, a quick peek at the blogosphere doesn’t reveal an avalanche of support. As David O’Keefe points out, Goody “didn’t meet OK!’s deadline” while Culch.ie labels it – simply - “disgracefully tasteless”.

And then, following the skiing accident involving actress, Natasha Richardson, Time Out New York magazine reported her as dead, only to retract it later when it became clear she wasn’t. Yet the magazine, in its breathtaking arrogance, said it “stood by its sources”. Let me get this straight – it reported someone dead who wasn’t, basing this on the word of a “family friend” who rang back later with a different story. Never mind staking groundless claims to journalistic ethics; a full page, unreserved apology would be the very least it could offer. As a former reporter on a local newspaper, getting the official facts on a fatality from the police or hospital spokesperson was journalism 101.

If that’s not bad enough, take a look at the Daily Stab’s attempt to correct its own misinformation on the Richardson story:

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It doesn’t come much worse than this and neatly encapsulates the risk of democratised, online reporting.

Whether it’s the sloppy, inaccurate reporting of a tragedy or incorrect opinions expressed about a company or other organisation, online it spreads like a conversational bushfire. And those with a reputation to protect have to understand that handling a crisis online takes more than speaking to a relative handful of editors as in a media furore of yesteryear. You need to know where the conversations are taking place, be where they are and know how to converse.

If the media treats death as they’ve done with Jade and Natasha Richardson, what might they do with something far less important?

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''