Belfast Telegraph

The Charlie Sheen intern spoof: Beware the web of lies that runs amok in cyberspace

By Paul Connolly

Belfast man Jonny Campbell has had a bit of a snigger at the media's expense. Remember him? Thought not.

He was the student who claimed to have won a job as the manager of Charlie Sheen's Twitter account, beating "100,000" other applicants. Anyway, Campbell issued a statement, picked up by media outlets, including the Belfast Telegraph, that he was the winning candidate.

The Tele duly ran the story, only to be left 'red-faced', as the tabloids would say, when Campbell outed himself as nothing more than a spoofer. Normally, Campbell's antics would be a damp squib in his own small universe. But throw in images of a famous actor having a live public breakdown, along with his porn star groupies, and, hey presto, you have a story that flashes around the world in print and online. Perhaps we should have made more robust checks after Mr Campbell produced his fake e-mail from 'Team Sheen'.

But set aside for a moment the fact that every future utterance of his will be treated with disbelief.

For he does raise one or two interesting media points.

Firstly, the industry tends to accept uncontroversial statements in good faith. If, say, a headmaster says his school's A-level results are the best in his region for a decade, journalists tend to report that as stated.

The alternatives are either to not report his statement, regardless of his personal integrity, or to invest great resource into proving the statistics behind the headmaster's comment.

This would be very costly and impossible to do for each of the dozens of stories published per edition. Naturally, when faced with controversial statements, journalists should make great attempts to check - particularly when reputations are at stake.

They also strive to ensure accuracy when reporting the actual facts of an event (as opposed to someone's opinions).

The other point, though, is a connected one. International celebrity journalism is the single most controversial type of reporting. Money greases its wheels.

The internet has increased the speed with which stories flash around the world and exerts downward pressure on more traditional checks and balances. Newspapers are at least governed by the law and the Press Complaints Commission.

The question is: who polices standards in cyberspace?

Here's Jonny: Campbell declares he has won the internship

--

Thanks to John O’Farrell of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for pointing out an error relating to a local anti-cuts parade.

A picture caption said there was “less trouble” at the Belfast march than in London.

Which was dumb — as our own report made clear, there was no trouble whatsoever in Belfast. Apologies to all concerned.

BTreaderseditor@gmail.com

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph