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Embarrassment as AOL breathlessly swallows spoof Raoul Moat report whole

July 7th, 2010Posted by in Journalism, Online Journalism

Not a good morning on the AOL News Surge Desk, AOL’s breaking news channel, after a story on the police search for alleged gunman Raoul Moat cited a satirical news site as a source.

Quoting spoof news site The News Grind, which suggests local residents are enjoying the live drama of the manhunt, the Surge Desk ran with the headline:

Raoul Moat Manhunt: Britain Breathlessly Awaits Bloody Shoot-Out Between Raoul Moat, Police

The AOL piece included large chunks of The News Grind article:

As officers and dogs move in, citizens from around the isle are anticipating a swift and gruesome conclusion to the national drama. Some are even clamoring for it, calling it the best live entertainment they’ve seen in some time.

News Grind paints a vivid picture of the mood:

“I can scarcely wait for the climax,” confirmed Elsie White, 77, as she raced back to her house after picking up some toffees and copies of today’s paper from a local newsagent featuring the blood-soaked face of a police officer allegedly shot by Moat.

“We haven’t had a live event like this to enjoy for quite some time and there’s only old Doctors episodes on at this time of day.”

Families have been collecting children from schools and nurseries throughout the day so they could watch together, as expectations reached fever pitch that a violent firearms confrontation was imminent. Over 800 schools have closed across the country as a result.

The Angry Mob has a screenshot of how the original article appeared on AOL.

AOL News Surge Desk Contributor Carl Franzen has issued an apology this morning and amended the story. Hats off to him for explaining what’s happened, where the mistake was made and not just taking it down:

An earlier version of this story included information from a false report from another site. We’ve updated to correct the record and explain what happened.

While residents of Rothbury have been described as scared and worried as the police continue their search for the accused killer, the situation is far different than what we reported in an earlier version of this post, which relied on false information from what turned out to be a satirical news site.

(…) We bought the quote as authentic – hook, line and sinker. We deeply regret the error.

Unfortunately the page title and URL still allude to the title of the original article:

Robin Brown, who wrote the satirical piece for The News Grind, sums it up:

A mistake anyone could have made? Perhaps, in these days of rolling news and slapping on content and the rush to be first with a report – the news grind, if you will.

But even that old chestnut about Americans and irony doesn’t wash – the US is the home of The Onion, the finest satire site in the world, after all.

Maybe it’s just a sign that, in these information-saturated days, even the news is beyond satire?

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