Someone died? Ha ha, that’s funny

One of my main beefs with online newsrooms is that because they use stories written by others – other News/Fairfax mastheads, wire services, re-writes of stories on other websites – online journalists seem to forget they are writing about real people.

A few years ago while drinking after work with some colleagues, we were arguing about this very point. I said that yes, of course we have a responsibility to write accurately about people, and the news ed said bullshit. She said “maybe in la-la-fantasy-Kim-land, but not in the real world”. She’s still a news editor, by the way.

(Another problem with the way online newsrooms get their stories is that it makes them silent newsrooms where journalists are not putting in any calls to get more information for stories and, rather than being exciting, they are boring places to work. And I should know, because I used to be an online journalist.)

Anyway, when a story was written by a different journalist in a different newsroom in a different state or country, you don’t have any connection to the people involved, so why would you care if your oh-so-witty headline was actually quite offensive?

Like this story on theage.com.au (and I’m sure I saw it on smh.com.au yesterday or earlier today):

News story on theage.com.au

Someone died? Oh, that's hilarious!

Nothing says “let’s make a reference to an 80s comedy movie” than news that someone has died.

The story – ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ driver thought dead friend was just drunk – is a crime story from Denver, Colorado. It’s from wire service AP and wouldn’t have been picked up by the Australian news media if it wasn’t for the Weekend at Bernie’s reference. It’s on our radar simply because an online editor thought it was funny.

Death is funny at The Age

Death is soooo funny that someone at theage.com.au put this photo in the story

But, I should be fair. It’s not just the online editor of theage.com.au who thought it was ha-larious. A journalist who spoke to the accused thought the story of two guys who may or may not have known that their friend was dead and used his money to buy themselves drinks, was sooo freakin’ hilarious that they even put the Weekend at Bernie’s suggestion to them:

Young rejected comparisons to the Weekend at Bernie’s plot.

He said the ordeal only lasted four hours, and insisted there was no comparison to the movie.

“It’s not a joking matter. He deserves better than that,” Young said.

More Weekend at Bernie’s oh-ho-ho-isn’t-this-funny rubbish was reported last year by News.com.au and run on all News Ltd websites. Classy, isn’t it?

2 responses to “Someone died? Ha ha, that’s funny

  1. Yet another reason that there should be proper journalistic standards. Self regulation doesn’t work.

    • Self-regulation never works. We’ve got the Press Council, but I don’t know a single editor who gives a shit about what they say. Only ABC watchers on the left care what Media Watch has to say, and they make more mistakes than they admit to their audience. There’s ACMA, but they support self-regulation and they have little to do with quality.

      The media is a very powerful beast and I think we do need some sort of quality control. And no, this doesn’t interfere with free speech. It just means journalists shouldn’t be able to publish rubbish without getting into some sort of trouble. Take the Bolt case for example. Why weren’t the errors in his articles picked up and corrected during the subbing process? Either the subbing process has simply become proof-reading – in which case much of what gets reported is likely to be filled with errors – or Bolt was allowed to write whatever the hell he wanted. Both of these situations are simply not good enough. The subs do more fact-checking of articles in your pay tv guide than happens at mainstream news organisations.

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