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Business Process Improvement in Journalism: Checking Sources

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The passing of famous composer Maurice Jarre made headlines last month. Many articles included a quote from the songwriter, which unfortunately, was a simple hoax.

According to the Irish Times, a 22-year old fooled the Guardian, the London Independent and the BBC:

These words were not uttered by the Oscar-winning composer but written by Shane Fitzgerald, a final-year undergraduate student studying sociology and economics at University College Dublin.

Mr Fitzgerald said he placed the quote on the website as an experiment when doing research on globalisation.

He wanted to show how journalists use the internet as a primary source and how people are connected especially through the internet, he said.

Business Process - Orchestra

© Flickr user jcapaldi

It is tempting to dismiss this incident as the act of a rogue hacker completing a highly sophisticated prank. But the student merely used a free online encyclopedia website with almost no technical knowledge.

Fitzgerald posted the quote on Wikipedia late at night after news of Jarre’s death broke. “I saw it on breaking news and thought if I was going to do something I should do it quickly. I knew journalists wouldn’t be looking at it until the morning,” he said.

Fitzgerald admits that he is not a sophisticated hacker or technology junkie. “I’m capable of using a computer but I’m not a whizz. Anyone can go in and edit [Wikipedia] anonymously,” he said.

What was the fake quotation? “Music is how I will be remembered. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.”

Few businesses seem more committed to factual accuracy than journalism. Yet, one opportunistic student conducting a social experiment was able to change the news. Every organization has procedures for confirming work meets quality standards, but apparently the fact checking systems at these major media outlets were unable to detect this hoax.

There’s a parallel in your organization. What do you take at face value? What “business processes” are little more than individuals scrambling to get information out the door? How easily could you be defrauded or confused by bad information, because there is no pattern of double checking?

If you need help, talk to the business consultants at AccelaWork. We can help you redesign your workflow to improve quality and reduce the risk of errors.

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