Banner ad

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fooling the media

I always wondered how reporters got the few "real people" quotations that they use in stories to indicate how some story is affecting actual folks. I just figured that a lot of those quotes come from friends of friends. I didn't realize that there was an internet site where reporters troll for sources. Here is the story of how one 25-year old guy used the site to fool reporters from all sorts of media organizations. And they fell for it.
He used Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service that puts sources in touch with reporters. Basically, a reporter sends a query, and a slew of people wanting to comment on the story email back. He decided to respond to each and every query he got, whether or not he knew anything about the topic. He didn’t even do it himself — he enlisted an assistant to use his name in order to field as many requests as humanly possible.

He expected it to take a few months of meticulous navigation, but he found himself with more requests than he could handle in a matter of weeks. On Reuters, he became the poster child for “Generation Yikes.” On ABC News, he was one of a new breed of long-suffering insomniacs. At CBS, he made up an embarrassing office story, at MSNBC he pretended someone sneezed on him while working at Burger King. At Manitouboats.com, he offered helpful tips for winterizing your boat. The capstone came in the form of a New York Times piece on vinyl records — naturally, Holiday doesn’t collect vinyl records.

“I could hear hands going up and down the frets, and stuff that they probably didn’t want you to hear. Which is a nice little surprise,” he told them.

Holiday had a lot of advantages in his experiment – his title as Marketing Director for American Apparel made him seem respectable, and most of his stories were such thorough lies that they came out on the other side of believable. But a quick Google search would have raised red flags for anyone using him as a source. For one thing, he wrote a book called “Trust Me, I’m Lying.” His Huffington Post profile has the word “notorious” in the first line. He’s repeatedly described himself as a “media manipulator.” He has a checkered reputation online, and his penchant for media stunts is well-documented. He also writes for Forbes, where a few of his big stories have generated more than their share of controversy. (See original for links.)
This is not a hoax done by an overly ambitious reporter such as Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass. This is just one guy taking advantage of journalists' laziness in order to fool them. Who knows how many other people are out there doing the same thing?

1 comment:

JorgXMcKie said...

Reporters aren't usually really that stupid, they have just been trained not to care.

If it makes a 'good' story, go with it.