No matter what politicians would want you to believe, reporters are human beings. And because of that, they can make mistakes.
Eric Shirey is obviously one of those human beings.
Shirey, whose entertainment stories appear on Yahoo! Movies, got some unwanted attention last week when a story he printed about Harlan Ellison and “In Time” writer Andrew Niccol settling their copyright dispute turned out to be false. He told Airlock Alpha that he had picked up on the story from a Wikipedia entry that was missing footnotes, but he thought was true, talking of a settlement between the parties.
“Well, considering the fact that the movie had already been released when i was writing the article, I just took it for granted that it had been added and the report was true,” Shirey said. “Unfortunately, for the first time ever (I want that noted), something I used as a source off of Wikipedia was wrong. I’ve had worse luck with things being inaccurate on IMDb.”
Shirey has written more than 500 stories for Yahoo, he said, and has never had any problems with facts in those stories, so this is an isolated incident.
The original story, which has since been removed by Yahoo, declared a suit filed by author Ellison against Niccol for copyright infringement over the recent film “In Time” had been settled, with Ellison earning a screen credit similar to what he settled for in the 1980s with “The Terminator.” Several news outlets, including Airlock Alpha, Blastr and the Orlando Sentinel picked up the story.
However, a short time after Airlock Alpha published the story, the site received correspondence from both the Writers Guild of America and Niccol’s attorney, questioning the accuracy of the story. Airlock Alpha followed up with a revised story and then set out to discover where the erroneous story originated.
Once that coverage was published, other news outlets that had picked up the original story quickly revised them to announce there had been no settlement. Everyone, that is, except Blastr. The site, which is owned and operated by NBC Universal’s Syfy, have left their original story from writer Marc Bernardin intact, despite attempts at least by Airlock Alpha to contact them and let them know about the factual problems of the story.
Blastr has not even provided an update of any kind to the story to let its readers know that there was not a settlement. Apparently, the site has been too busy putting numbers in headlines (a cheap trick some believe help artificially enhance search engine optimization) to make sure what they are publishing is accurate.
Niccol’s attorney, Vincent Cox, said he expected to ask the court to dismiss the case this week.
In terms of sourcing stories from Wikipedia, it is a slippery slope that journalists have to be careful of. Airlock Alpha, like many news outlets, use Wikipedia as a reference. However, the site does work to corroborate information found on the site, including checking footnotes and accompanying links the information is attributed to.
Shirey implied that he does that normally, but didn’t do it in the Ellison story case.
“Lesson learned,” he said.