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Home > Media

Web Of Deceit

While the web isn't killing newspaper journalism, it does seem to be helping certain newspaper journalists to commit suicide.

Paul Carr

2 November 2002

On Tuesday, an amazing thing happened. One of those things that makes you sing 'What a beautiful day (hey hey...)' at the top of your voice as you walk back from the newsagents - albeit without sparing a thought for the poor old Levellers who would be rich men indeed were royalties payable on private karaoke performances. Just think how much acid they could buy on the back of other people's happiness. Gosh. Loads.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, On Tuesday, The Evening Standard finally discovered thinkofthechildren.co.uk. However, being part of the Daily Mail stable, they didn't produce an article about how a satirical website was shut down on the back of one complaint. Oh no. Instead they wrote this...

Police today threw a security cordon around Peterborough Crown Court amid fears that an angry mob might try to attack Soham murder suspect Ian Huntley.

The discovery of an inflammatory website encouraging protesters to use "bricks, rocks and bottles" prompted police to draft in 120 officers to guard the court for the second public appearance of the 28-year-old caretaker accused of the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

The site lists the "Soham Mob" among its supporters. They are thought to have been among the 500-strong mob that pelted Huntley's van with eggs and tomatoes as it left Peterborough Magistrates' Court last month after his first court appearance.

Oh nothing is impossible / in my all powerful mind.

It's hard to know where to begin on this. Two questions immediately spring to mind: did the police really 'draft in 120 officers' as a result of a piece of satire that they've known about for three weeks and b) If so, don't they have some kind of computer to log this type of thing? Or does police intelligence (too easy) in the digital age really only stretch to typing 'huntley +carr +mob' into Google.

In case you haven't already guessed, the answers to the above questions are a) no and b) no - because the Standard made the whole thing up. Apparently a story about the police anticipating a few protesters outside Huntley's court appearance wasn't important enough - it needed a hook. And where better to find that hook than on the Internet?

There was a popular belief in the late 90's that the Internet would kill newspaper - and, in particular, tabloid - journalism. Fortunately, like every other popular belief in the late '90s ('video streaming is the future of home entertainment'), it turned out to be almost total nonsense. I say almost total because, while the web isn't killing newspaper journalism, it does seem to be helping certain newspaper journalists to commit suicide - like a plastic bag tightening around a skinny Dutchman's neck.

Time was that even the laziest of journalist would actually have to leave their desks once a week to go out looking for stories - robberies, rape, celebrity exclusives - that kind of thing. But thanks to the Internet, it's now possible to fill an entire paper simply by giving a monkey an iMac and showing them how to choose search keywords.

Need a front page story? Rape is always a crowd pleaser - especially with the Standard - so how about *click, click... click* 'Sick monster makes chat room rape vow' (or: 'acned American loner makes empty threat in alt.rape.fantasy.teen.wankers'). Meanwhile, over at the Sport, we have 'Britney's fury over nude pics shocker'. ('acned American loner downloads Photoshop'). It's the perfect crime against journalism - the Internet is so vast that it's impossible to check whether a net-sourced story is true or just the product of an overpaid hack's underfed imagination.

Unless of course they break the number one rule of Google journalism (or 'Googalism'): never, ever include any actual facts. Facts are a Googalist's Achilles heel. They can be re-entered into Google to establish the real source of a story and how much of it, if any, is true.

This was the mistake made by Danielle Gusmaroli at the Standard when she mentioned my run-in with the Obscene Publications Squad. Oops. No sooner had the ink dried on the story than hundreds of readers had re-Googled the story and had begun to post their findings to the Standard's message board. As one poster put it, 'the fact that this cretinous reporter thinks it is legit suggests that, alas, the Met were right in that there are people that stupid'. True dat.

Within minutes the version of the story published on thisislondon.co.uk, the Standard's web site, had been 'revised' replacing any mention of thinkofthechildren.co.uk with some less sensational, but slightly more accurate news-words about the small mob who turned up at the court. And apparently we're now at war with Eurasia.

But, alas, the paper edition had already gone to press leaving thousands of Londoners - myself included, as I discovered on my walk back from the newsagents - with a permanent, textbook example of Googalism in action.

...When Hepburn said I love you / And Flynn said make mine a double Jack

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