The Nairobi Star’s public editor Karen Rothmyer reported that the newspaper ran old news as if it were new in a mid-January edition.
As Rothmyer explained, the newspaper’s Jan. 12 Page 2 story and photos reported on a “Kenyan supposedly being stoned to death by al Shabaab members in Somalia.” But, the incident happened in 2009 and “had nothing to do with either Kenya or al Shabaab.” The original story is published here, but the Star didn’t publish any photos online, Rothmyer told iMediaEthics by e-mail.
Rothmyer noted that a reader, Vincent Chepkwony, tipped her off to the “news” being old. According to Rothmyer, the newspaper got the story from “the Kenyan military’s twitterer-in-chief, Major Emmanuel Chirchir.” Chirchir is the “Kenya military spokesman” according to his Twitter account.
Chirchir tweeted the story and photos, and the newspaper published its report based on that. In an e-mail to iMediaEthics, Rothmyer explained:
“The first three grafs were from Chirchir’s tweets. The last two were about a related development. As I explained in the column, the editors involved said they didn’t have time to check further before deadline. And to be fair, they had no reason to believe this tweet of Chirchir’s was any different than many he’d done previously about the progress of the war in Somalia–some of which people thought might be too rosy, but none of which were found to be outright lies.”
While the newspaper published an apology from Chirchir over the incident the following day, Rothmyer wrote that the major “disappointingly offered no regrets for its own role in misleading readers.” The Jan. 13 story reporting Chirchir’s apology doesn’t include any acknowledgement that the newspaper failed to verify this account. Further, Rothmyer noted that the newspaper’s editor defended the newspaper’s story saying “there was no time to call anybody.”
Also, there was apparently no time to even Google. According to Rothmyer, the newspaper’s political editor Paul Ilado said the newspaper didn’t have time to add anything to the story beyond Chirchir’s tweeted information because of deadlines. Rothmyer noted that a basic online search of “stoning” and “Somalia” indicated the story was from 2009.
Rothmyer used the incident to highlight the need for fact checking everything. She wrote:
“The Chirchir flap is just one of many incidents that raise the issue of what the Star’s responsibility is to check on claims made by public figures. In fact, on the very same day that the stoning story ran, the Star issued an apology to lawyer Miguna Miguna for running an MP’s unsubstantiated claim that Miguna was at one time wanted by Interpol.”
We asked Rothmyer about any social media policy at the Star. She told iMediaEthics by e-mail that the newspaper doesn’t and that Major Chirchir “is the first one who’s used Twitter to put out news.” She added that Star staff frequently check social media accounts looking “for news tips” but typically Star journalists use anything found on social media as the tip for a story and not the sole basis.
Rothmyer also noted that she doesn’t find this error to be an example of “the dangers of Twitter or other social media” but more so “the age-old danger of believing that officials don’t lie. They do! But even after a lifetime as a journalist I still find it hard to understand.”
UPDATE: 1/30/2012 9:47 AM EST: Added Rothmyer’s response to iMediaEthics in text above.