Editorial: ‘Snow penis’ shows lazy reporting

Last week, a story featuring a picture of three women posing in front of a penis-shaped snow sculpture, believed to have been taken during the recent snowstorms at Rowan, ran on brobible.com, a blog covering all types of pop culture.

As the story gained more and more traffic for the site, it was eventually picked up by BuzzFeed, a popular news and entertainment outlet for college students and younger readers.

It didn’t take long for questions to be raised about when the photo was actually taken.

Brobible.com released a statement Tuesday redacting the original post. It turns out the photo was taken in 2011 and the women posing did not build the giant sculpture.

J. Camm of brobible.com said he obtained the photo from a woman who emailed him, calling the creation “our snow penis,” indicating the three women were the creators.

Herein lies the problem with social media dictating how reporting is done.

The Whit only publishes information after fact-checking, and we would not have published this photo without first verifying the information. When the photo surfaced, one of our editors recognized the location as Beau Rivage and drove around the development looking for it before considering writing about it in the next issue.

Because The Whit could not find it, we held off. Turns out, we made a good decision.

In recent years, the desire to be the first to break a story has trumped being right. The mentality has turned to “if we’re wrong, we’ll just retract it. Until then, we’ll get a lot of hits on the page.” But this mentality destroys the ideals we value the most as journalists.

When a news organization like BuzzFeed picks up a story from a blog without fact-checking, it undermines not only our ideals but our integrity.

Sure, this is only a story about a giant snow penis posted on a blog, but recent history has proven that these types of issues are capable of being a much bigger problem.

For example, consider when Penn State’s college publication, Onward State, took the word of a mysterious email and published football coach Joe Paterno’s death prematurely, causing CBS to pick it up and forcing Paterno’s family to publicly deny the claims.

Will this lazy reporting ever end, or will the increasing social media presence by news organizations change the way we do things?

This question can only be answered with time, but one thing’s for sure  when we decided to become journalists, we weren’t planning to publish first, we were planning to publish the truth.

For comments/questions about this story, email editor@thewhitonline.com or tweet @thewhitonline.

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