Journalism and online media
Last week, the Echo ran an article previewing The New York Times’ Washington Bureau writer Scott Shane’s visit to campus as a Lovejoy Visiting Journalist. Attendees of his Monday lecture must have been confused when the man whose picture appeared in color on the front page of the newspaper was not the same man who walked up to the podium and introduced himself as Scott Shane.
Though this editorial error is neither the first nor the worst of its kind (nowhere near as obviously wrong as “Dewey Defeats Truman,” lucky for us), it does expose one of the major drawbacks of the Internet’s ever-growing influence on journalism.
The Internet plays an enormous role in the student journalistic process. When section editors are short on stories, there’s no easier way to find some new topics than to check out the Colby website or clubs’ websites, or to look at news aggregate sites like The Huffington Post to get a sense of what is going on in the world and to figure out how it may relate to what’s happening on the Hill. And when a journalist starts at ground zero with a story, there is no better place to begin than Google.
This is not the first time that these two Scott Shane’s have been mixed up. The Scott Shane who we accidentally displayed last week on the front page is an economics professor at Western Reserve University, but back when he was teaching at The University of Maryland and the journalist Scott Shane was working for The Baltimore Sun, the two Shanes lived quite near one another. In the nineties, they each subscribed to separate Internet service providers and had email addresses with the same name at different accounts (e.g. email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org), but then the two providers merged. Though their addresses remained different, their emails sometimes ended up in the wrong inbox, and Scott Shane, the journalist, recalls having to reply to many emails letting the sender know that he or she had reached the wrong recipient.
Even though Scott Shane, the economist, has moved to Ohio, his online mix-ups with Scott Shane, the journalists, continue today. Scott Shane, the economist, now contributes to the Business Day section of The New York Times, the same publication Scott Shane the journalist works for.
The mistake in last week’s Echo shows just how potentially problematic search engines like Google, especially Google Images, can be. For example, when you search “Scott Shane” on Google, the most frequently featured person in the search results is Scott Shane the economist, followed by Scott Shane the Journalist. However, the results are also littered with images of various people Shane has covered for the Times. The images do not provide any context, however, they only link an image to the words “Scott Shane,” therefore it is up to the journalists to double and triple check that the images actually match up with the subject that they are researching.
What this mistake shows us is that in journalism it’s still the wizard that counts, not the wand. Though the Internet is a powerful tool, reporters still need to follow through with the same due diligence and fact checking proper journalism has always required.