Sydney Morning Herald blames bloggers for incorrect Haiti image

In The Sydney Morning Herald’s role as gatekeeper/the fourth estate, those paying for its content deserve a standard of professionalism that is better than those it does not pay for.

journalist t-shirt
Is a t-shirt necessary to tell the difference between professional journalists and citizens? You can buy this one at www.zazzle.com.

That’s the idea, anyway.

The Sydney Morning Herald, however, doesn’t understand how to work online. One key aspect of journalism is the newsgathering process. Professional journalists are supposed to be well versed in newsgathering. They are fully trained and have a wealth of resources and contacts in their reporting toolkits. They gather and filter information to create news pieces that hold reliable information for society.

That’s why today’s decision by the Herald’s Jessica Mahar to write a story denigrating “bloggers” for posting pictures online that were not actually of Haiti’s current quake aftermath, but of other incidents is a dumb move. The subs have titled the story, ‘Bloggers jump gun with wrong photos.’

I’ll start lightly. The fact that the Herald has run one of the “fake” images again is a poor editorial decision. Unprofessional, however, is the decision to not identify the source of the image at all. (The caption reads Photo: –) Additionally, the lack of any links at all from the Herald’s story when many would have been appropriate is a red flag to me.

Extended quotes from a random computer science guy named Miguel Rios? No identification of who he is other than his name, or where his affiliation is. Why not link to his Linkedin profile or something? (Like I just did.)

Mahar chose to use inflammatory quotes from Rios calling for some checks and measures to be put in place by a respected entity to ensure this kind of mistake doesn’t happen. Mahar is kind of saying “look, social media can hoodwink you – this is why you need us professionals.”

The embarrassment, dear, comes from the fact that I believe the only reason this story was created was because the Sydney Morning Herald stole the “fake” images in question without any transparency of where they were sourced from. They didn’t check it out and the plagiarism was only discovered when the images turned out to be false. This makes the headline here incorrect. It wasn’t the bloggers who jumped the gun. It was the professionals at the Herald.

And of course, the fact that the readership of the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out the inauthenticity of the images “almost immediately,” according to the Herald’s own online editor-in-chief is something that makes even more of a mockery of the situation – and of the professionals who can’t or won’t see and accept responsibility for their own errors.

Here’s a tip: American news organization CNN is doing a far better job in newsgathering using online sources. While CNN could do better by linking more, its coverage of Haiti using the personal stories and images collected across the Web offer a better level of transparency than that offered by the Herald.