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Journalist’s quest to find the man behind the world’s most expensive everything

August 11th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Magazines, Press freedom and ethics

The deputy editor of Motor Boat and Yachting has written an entertaining blog post on his quest to get to the story behind a press release announcing the sale of a £3 billion yacht to an unnamed Malaysian business man.

Stewart Campbell writes about his search for Stuart Hughes, who sent the release, which was picked up and run as a story by the Sun, Daily Mail, Metro, the Independent before being uncovered by Campbell as examples of churnalism.

It is worth reading the full post to get the full tale of the yacht, the Photoshopped image and what led Campbell to put out his first story: The £3 billion golden superyacht: real or fake? And a second, published a day later: £3 billion superyacht story confirmed as fake.

I’m proud to say that as the second story above went live, Motor Boat and Yachting was the only news source on the planet disputing Mr Hughes’ claims. Everyone had bought it – from UK nationals, to blogs, to foreign media taking the story as fact from the British papers (MSNBC, Toronto Sun, Ireland’s The Journal, Australia’s Daily Telegraph & news.com.au). It was big news in Malaysia, I understand – as it would be here if a Brit had dropped a few billion on a superyacht (Malaysia Star, Malaysian Insider). Abramovich’s massive Eclipse only cost a few hundred million, after all. Big, big news. But a complete fabrication. A couple of news outlets around the world picked up our story, reporting the reporting – the same practice that led to so much of the media printing falsehoods in the first place (Asia One, MSN Malaysia, Business Insider, Malaysian Insider). It was all too late, though – the genie was out of the bottle and to many people around the world, the established truth was that there was a Malaysian businessman out there who’d just picked up the keys to his new £3 billion, golden toy.

The story gets increasingly entertaining as Campbell receives another release from Hughes on the world’s most expensive house.

At a secret location in Switzerland, this house apparently contains 200,000kg – yes, 200 metric tons – of gold and platinum. This guy can apparently source more gold than most central banks – 0.18% of all the gold ever mined, to be exact, and that’s just for his yacht and house projects. The story didn’t hit the UK nationals, but did make its fair share of blogs and overseas papers (the Pakistan Times; Wall Street Journal, which is a reblog of a reblog).

So Campbell’s quest continues and though a boat and yachting specialist, he finds himself researching the story behind the house.

The full post on Campbell’s blog Cricket, and things that make me angry is at this link.

There’s some advice on how not to fall for hoax press releases here.

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Richard Sambrook: Churnalism – the good and bad of journalism v PR

March 1st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, PR

The Churnalism debate continues with analysis from Richard Sambrook from PR agency Edelman:

Good PR  is less about spin and cover ups and more about advocacy and transparency- from which some news organisations could learn. I’m asked by old colleagues, “So what terrible deeds have you had to cover up then?”. The truth of course is  that “covering-up” or deceit is the worst advice to offer anyone, with a  high probablilty of discovery and consequent reputational damage proven time and again. If anyone has something that needs covering up they don’t have a communications issue – they have a business issue. And spin or deceit corrodes the trust and relationships on which influence is built.

Full post on Sambrook’s blog at this link

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Ten things every journalist should know in 2009

1. How to use Twitter to build communities, cover your beat, instigate and engage in conversations.

2. How to use RSS feeds to gather news and manage them using filtering techniques (basic or advanced).

3. That there is a difference between link journalism and ‘cut and paste’ journalism (aka plagiarism).

4. That your readers are smarter than you think. In fact, many are smarter than you – they know more than you do.

5. That churnalism is much easier to spot online. If you do this regularly, your readers are already on to you – merely re-writing press releases without bringing anything to the table no longer cuts it.

6. Google is your friend. But if you are not using advanced search techniques, you really have no idea what it is capable of.

7. You do not have to own, or even host, the technology to innovate in journalism and engage your readers. There is a plethora of free or cheap tools available online, so there is no excuse for not experimenting with them.

8. Multimedia for multimedia’s sake rarely works, and is often embarrassing. If you are going to do it, either do it well enough so it works as a standalone item or do it to complement your written coverage – for example, add a link to the full sound file of your interview with someone in your article, or a link to the video of someone’s entire speech at an event. The latter will enhance the transparency of your journalism too. Great tips and resources here and some useful tips on doing video on a budget.

9. How to write search engine friendly journalism. Old school thinking about headline writing, story structure etc no longer applies online and there is also more to learn about tagging, linking and categorisation. Sub-editors (if you still have them), editors and reporters all need to know how to do this stuff.

10. Learn more about privacy. You can find a lot of information about people online, especially via social networking sites, but think carefully about the consequences. And bear in mind that it cuts both ways, if you do not do it carefully, your online research could compromise your sources.

Update: see Ten things every journalist should know in 2010

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