Unit 2 Assignment

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mspikes's picture
Unit 2 Assignment

In Unit 2, we looked at how news is put together in order to better understand opinion journalism, how the journalistic process of verification works, and how it can break down. In the practical portion of the quiz, we are going to give you a choice of which item you would like to present to us to show mastery of one of the major concepts covered in unit 2. 

Please choose ONE of the following three activities, and share the outcome as a reply in this forum. 

1. Choose a selection of at least 2 stories that demonstrate the provisional nature of truth. Your stories should demonstrate how the story changed over time as more evidence was made available to the reporter.  In your short explanation of the story, include what the new pieces of evidence where that led to the change in the story. 

2. Choose a story that shows an example of the verification process breaking down, leading to the publication of a piece of information that turned out not to be true. In your short explanation of the story, please include whether or not the publication was transparent about how it got the information that it did, and left out the information that it did not, and/or printed a correction for the erroneous information. 

3. Choose a story that you believe demonstrated the journalistic process of verification well, and could be used a model to teach the concept of the verification process in a News Literacy class. Explain what pieces of direct evidence and indirect evidence were used in the story, and how they worked together. 

Janvier's picture



Here are a couple of stories that illustrate how the verification process fell apart in regards to reporting about Muslim "no-go" zones various European countries, especially England and France.

Apparently, terrorism analyst Steve Emerson had been invited to speak on a Fox news show with Jeanine Pirro, "Justice with Judge Jeanine".  During the show, he asserted that there are areas where non-Muslims are not allowed, and that, "they're places where governments, like France, Britain, Sweden, Germany--they don't exercise any sovereignty so you basically have zones where Sharia courts are set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where police don't go in."  Not only did Pirro not refute any of these claims, which she later apologized for, but she made comments that seemed to support their validity.  Days before Emerson's comments, Sean Hannity had also made such claims,, and had them corroborated by news correspondent Greg Palkot, who reported to have first-hand experience of riding along with French police who refused to go into a Muslim neighborhood.  The no-go zones were said to be the result of a massive influx of Muslim immigrants into European countries, and the tone of the reports seemed to suggest that Muslims were "taking over" parts of various countries.

Verification and transparency broke down in many ways.  There was no census data cited during any of the reports about immigration numbers.  In fact, no statistical data and no official sources were cited during any of the reports, so listeners had no way to fact-check what was being said.  Greg Palkot did not state the name of the officer he supposedly rode with in France, nor did he attempt to speak with any other French officials about what he said he saw that day on the ride-along.    Information regarding "zones of urban sensitivity" seemed to be taken out of context in order to support the pre-existing views of the various commentators on this subject.  

The news agency did indeed post corrections and apologies.  In one of its correction statements, errors were openly admitted, as part of the correction states:

"To be clear, there is no formal designation of these [no-go] zones in either country and no credible information to support the assertion there are specific areas in these countries that exclude individuals based solely on their religion."

Video of the full statement can be found on either of the websites above.  

I think this story helped illustrate for me the difference between "assertions" and "opinions", and why it is important to know the difference.  Clearly the initial reports on no-go zones were steeped in emotion and not fact, and were offered up without proof or any verifiable support.

anettesofia's picture

Awesome example and very detailed explanation! Thanks!

freynolds's picture

I chose to look at The Rolling Stone article about the rape of a Columbia College student. When I heard about the controversy I was shocked to learn about all of the mis-steps that had occurred in the journalism process.

I selected this article (which I cannot find now since they retracted it) because I remembered reading a great article explaining the breakdown of the journalism verification process in the NY Times of April 5, 2015 found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/business/media/rolling-stone-retracts-article-on-rape-at-university-of-virginia.html (Fellow students, please read this as it is quite informative).

Most insightful is what the NY Times called the first of many "misteps"and that can help us understand what has been discussed in this module. The article notes:

"The first misstep during the reporting process, the Columbia report said, was that Ms. Erdely did not seek to independently contact three of Jackie’s friends, who were quoted in the piece, using pseudonyms, expressing trepidation at the idea of Jackie telling the authorities that she had been assaulted. The quotes came from Jackie’s recollection of the conversation. Those friends later cast doubt on Jackie’s story in interviews with The Washington Post and denied saying the words Rolling Stone had attributed to them. The three told the report’s authors that they would have made the same denials to Rolling Stone if they had been contacted."

Verification (of VIA steps) did not occur and the writer of the Rolling Stone article simply attributed quotes from the victim to the witnesses. The Washington Post's verification process exposed the flaws as noted above. Factual errors were made. The attacker was never identified. The date of the alleged party at Phi Kappa Psi was in conflict as there was no party that day. Independence issues were made as the Fraternity was not given enough information to respond to in the story, as well. Only after the story came out was there an ability for Phi Kappa Psi to respond.

Accountability attempts were offered as Rolling Stone posted the full report detailing their errors on Rolling Stone’s website. They also printed an edited version in the magazine. That can be read here: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/a-note-to-our-readers-20141205

The critique of the Rolling Stone's journalism verification process is a good look at how a process can break down.

anettesofia's picture

Great example! Just the letter of the Rolling Stone's editor is more than enough to generate a pretty deep dialogue with students...

kyatonia's picture

Okay, so I had this article saved in my documents, but the original was taken down for obvious reasons:

“George Washington University students in Washington, D.C. learned of a tragic coincidence of timing on their campus Wednesday. As President Obama delivered a speech on deficit reduction in the Jack Morton Auditorium, university officials were learning one of their students had committed suicide in his dorm room across campus.

Fox News has learned that the male student may have been a junior at the school and was described as solitary. He rarely left his dorm room, according to a source.  

‘I am deeply saddened to report that the university has been notified of the death of one of our students,’ GW President Steven Knapp said in a message to his students, faculty and staff. ‘The student was found in his room this afternoon at the City Hall residence hall,’ he said.

GWU officials tell Fox that police were notified about the incident around 2pm, which happens to be at the same time that President Obama was speaking. A source tells Fox that the incident may have occurred earlier, noting that police went knocking on the student’s door at 1:30pm. As of this writing, Fox has not been able to obtain reaction from the White House.

‘The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating the student’s death in coordination with the GW Police Department,” Knapp wrote. ‘At this time, we have no indication that the death was the result of a criminal act. We will release more information when it becomes available.’

DC police officials tell Fox that the death has, in fact, been ruled a suicide.

Knapp took note of the solemn moment, adding, ‘On behalf of the entire university community, I would like to express our sorrow and extend my condolences to the student’s family and friends.'”

Some of you may remember that article. If anyone has a link to it, please let me know. Fox News Online linked the suicide of a George Washingtion University student with  President Obama's giving a speech on campus. Fox News later took down the article, but it was a prime example of a failure even after the verification process has been employed. 

  • The news outlet gathered information from the college, including the fact that on the young man's computer screen was an election site. Also, the news outlet attempted to show that the young mans time of death was at the same time that Pres. Obama was giving his speech. However, when weighing the evidence, the outlet failed to report that the suicide could have happened sometime sooner. In so doing, although the outlet presented evidence, they failed to contextualize all of the evidence. 
  • In addition, although the outlet states that the source for this information was primarily school officials, this supposed transparency does not reveal how they obtain the details of the police report or if any of this information was retrieved from the police report. 

It is in the failure to propose whether evidence is direct or indrect and in the interpretation and juxtaposition of evidence that causes the failure, which eventually called for the removal of the article.