The Globe and Mail was tricked in an online interview, highlighting yet again the dangers of using social media for stories and the realities that sometimes sources lie about the most basic information.
According to Sylvia Stead, the Canadian newspaper's public editor who wrote a blogpost on the error, the Globe and Mail used its Facebook page to find people to feature in a story on Christmas gifts. This Nov. 29 Facebook post appears to be that solicitation, which calls for people to contact the Globe and Mail's Zosia Bielski.
The source in question, identifying herself as a lawyer, emailed the reporter for the story but declined a phone interview. However, "another journalist," who Stead didn't identify, alerted the newspaper that the source may have been lying because her given name "is not listed as a lawyer in Ontario."
The Dec. 6 article, "Self-gifting: Who's at the top of your holiday shopping list? You," by Zosia Bielski, has since been updated and carries an "Editor's Note" (not a "correction") that reads:
"Editor's note: Trista Picken is not a lawyer in Ottawa. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article. This online version has been corrected."
The Globe and Mail's Stead originally told iMediaEthics by email that the editor's note should be labeled a correction and the change would be made. She later emailed iMediaEthics to say that Globe and Mail "standard practice" is "to correct the online stories and include an editor's note explaining the correction." In response to iMediaEthics' inquiry asking why the newspaper labels corrections "editor's notes," Stead said:
"Because the online story has already been corrected and so the editor's note is explaining what has changed. The online story is no longer wrong now, but we want to show the transparency and explain what was wrong in a previous version."
Now, the article doesn't identify Picken's occupation. It does say she is 26. A Google search for Trista Picken produces a 26-year-old Trista Picken in Richmond, Ontario.
"Would it have been harder for her to deceive the reporter in person, during a streeter?" Stead asked. "It’s impossible to know, but this case raises questions about social media as a reporting tool."
Stead noted that the Globe and Mail ran a correction in its print edition on Dec. 8.
iMediaEthics has written to the Globe and Mail's Bielski asking who tipped the paper off to Picken's apparent lie, if she has found out why, and how she verifies information through social media.
Last month, Stead explained in a blogpost to readers how the newspaper decides when to label something a correction versus a clarification, as iMediaEthics wrote at the time.