How to start a college journalism class with a twerking video

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March 25, 2014 by joshcornfield

What better way to start a class on blogging and building students’ B.S. meters than with this gem from last year.

After starting the semester in my Editing the News class with weeks of discussion about grammar and style (you can use “over” now, deal with it) and headline writing, we’re moving on now to the one of the new “first jobs” for journalism students. Students graduating my Temple class this year are just as likely to spend four hours in a town council meeting as they will be spending four minutes rehashing something already knocking around the Internet.

With that comes an even more important need to teach journalism students about building their B.S. meters.

We may not catch every Jimmy Kimmel hoax, but we can at least question what happened to a woman whose pants allegedly caught on fire rather than posting a video for cheap laughs and clicks and forgetting about it until Kimmel tells us we’re all pawns. (Haha, a wolf at the Olympics. Ha.)

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We can at least run this snowy Sphinx photo through TinEye to see whether it was real or from a Japanese theme park.

From Luke O’Neil’s “The Year We Broke the Internet,” which doubled as today’s reading:

For most, however, the photos were just another thoughtlessly processed and soon-forgotten item that represented our now-instinctual response to the unrelenting stream of information we’re subjected to every waking hour: Share first, ask questions later. Better yet: Let someone else ask the questions. Better still: What was the question again?

Needless to say, the photos were bullshit.

One of the best parts of Luke’s piece for class purposes is that he isn’t afraid to note his own occasional role in the problem. We aim for perfection in class, but knowing when to admit we’re wrong is also a key part of learning how to edit. (For instance, just last week I let a student berate me for a weak AP headline I had written.)

I followed up with Luke on Twitter this week to ask whether anything has changed for the better (or worse) since his piece came out in December.

In short, nothing has changed really, as I’m sure you’ve seen. Business as usual for the most part. Which is saddening.

I think the major thing is that everyone is at least confronting and thinking about this problem now.

He also points to sites now “making the debunking itself the means of squeezing views out of a fake story,” pointing to Adrienne LaFrance’s new regular “Antiviral” Gawker feature and some of his own work, among others.

At the very least the idea that we need to be more skeptical is percolating in the share culture.

(I’ve) become very vigilant about posting things that seem too good to be true myself. I don’t think I’ve shared anything that was revealed to be fake yet, although there were one or two things that could have ended up being fake, and maybe I just got lucky on, like the Olympic bobsledder who smashed his way out of his bathroom.

For the most part I’ve maintained a much higher degree of skepticism. If it’s not reported by a trusted news source, then I’m not blogging about it. I’d look like a real hypocrite if I did after all.

As Steve Buttry says in this post on Aggregation (Thursday’s class reading), aggregation doesn’t need to be a dirty word. It has a “long, proud and ethical history in journalism.” Hopefully today’s working professionals (and students) put the thought and work in that’s needed to allow that to continue.

And after reading Steve and Luke’s words of wisdom, hopefully the next Kimmel hoax doesn’t get past anyone in my class.

(Even more importantly, hopefully they never kill Quinton Ross.)

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