So for shits and giggles I decided to read the articles from yesterday and today touting Delpo's return at the US Open. If you Google "Juan Martin del Potro" and go to "News", the first article that pops up is "Can del Potro Defend His US Open Title", written by some dude who I've never heard of before.
The second paragraph of that article:
As few as two weeks ago, del Potro's prospects for playing at Flushing Meadows looked dim. But now, the news out of Argentina is that del Potro has recovered from the surgery on his right wrist, is hitting tennis balls and is on track to defend his title in late August.
This was published seven hours ago. If you read that you can't help but think, "Wow, this story must be kinda legit because this reporter is citing some sources out of Argentina for the fact that (1) JMDP has recovered from surgery, (2) is hitting tennis balls, and (3) is on track to defend his title in NYC.
But if one' s bullshit meter were turned on, one would wisely click on the link that purports to support those three propositions. And what one would find is another ESPN article that says this:
"Del Potro is working and hopefully he will be back soon," his agent, Ugo Colombini, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
That's it? *That's* the basis for the three-part broad statement in the initial article? That can't be. Reporters would never infer information from a quote without, you know, saying that they were inferring something from that quote, right? They wouldn't just turn an inference into a fact, right?
Nah. Never. Perish the thought.
Personally, I'm always very wary of articles that don't link sources. And if the article does state a fact that sets off the BS meter, I immediately source the fact, either by linking to the source or Googling myself. Maybe it's the lawyer in me who spent many a sleepless night either cite checking other people's articles or briefs and finding that 80% of the time, their cite didn't support their assertion. The lesson drilled into me by the partners at my firm was the four-corner rule: The fact has to fit within the four-corners of the document you cite. If it doesn't, you either find a new source that does or you dial back your assertion. Sure, nine times out of ten the reader isn't going to double check your cite. They'll take it for face value. But the one time they do you will get caught. And your reputation goes down the drain.
The problem is exacerbated in the media when news outlets are constantly trying to "break" news first and also get page views. The pressure to get something out leads to laziness and, inevitably, mistakes, whether intentional or not.
So, you know, take everything you read in the interwebs with a grain of salt. As if you needed a reminder.