What an Olympics for Canada!
As I write this week’s column, I’m left with an impression team Canada is picking up where they left off in Vancouver, and that is the attitude and determination that they will in fact, "own the podium" this year in Sochi. The Olympics are filled with inspiration and teachable moments for our children, and this year is no exception.
From the role models of team Canada’s athletes both on and off the podium, to the class team Canada shows before during and after competition, regardless of judging, controversy or distraction. Team Canada is doing their nation proud and setting a great example for future athletes.
Another teachable moment for our young people has little do to with training, with medals, or sports at all. In our household it was about media consumption. Gone are the days where the traditional media held the garden hose, and the public drank willingly from its end, waiting for the news to grace these pages, hit the radio airwaves, or flash across your TV screen. Those days are slowly fading into the sunset. And while I believe there will always be a need for the daily paper, and a local radio and TV station, the way those businesses operate is also changing. The reason is just one word: speed.
But does speed trump accuracy even when a story is wrong?
Sunday afternoon Tracy began reading a story from her iPhone as she sipped her morning coffee. Telling me an unbelievable tale about one of the guys in charge of the opening ceremonies in Russia last Friday night. By now you’ve seen the display, the fireworks, the dancing, and the Olympic rings. Then there was the one that didn’t open. I thought quietly to myself, "Wow, in Russia I bet that guy is in big trouble. Hope he doesn’t end up in jail or something."
My wife Tracy said, "It’s worse, he’s dead." What? I asked her to read the entire article, all the while asking where it came from. She told me she wasn’t sure, but dozens of her friends had liked and shared the story, so it must be true.
Here’s how it read on the website "The Daily Current":
"The man responsible for operating the Olympic Rings during last night’s Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Russia was found dead today. According to local reports the body of T. Borris Avdeyev was found his hotel room early this morning with multiple stab wounds. Avdeyev was a technical specialist responsible for the Olympic Ring spectacle, which embarrassingly malfunctioned last night. Five animatronic snowflakes were supposed to transform into Olympic Rings. The first four functioned properly but the fifth snowflake failed to change shape. Although his body was badly mangled and the wounds were consistent with a struggle, so far officials say they don’t suspect foul play."
I repeat. It wasn’t true.
After 16,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter, many failed to realize the article came from a satirical news site. The Daily Current might as well be the Daily Show with John Stewart. They make FAKE news. We all laughed at the gag, but took the time to talk with our kids about how media works today. Being in the business myself, I know how important speed is. I’ve seen it first hand.
On one of our Starjet Vacations a few years back, a motor vehicle accident was reported on one of our morning newscasts. It involved several vehicles and a couple was rushed to hospital. Now the story has a happy ending, because everyone was fine, but watching our listeners in Mexico, react to our broadcast in real time, as they heard the story on air was interesting. We ended the story with, "More details when they become available."
But often that is not good enough for us. After all, we’re human. We want more details and we want them now. We want to know if someone we know was involved. Are they ok? How are the roads now? And the questions go on and on.
Before my first song was done that hour, seven people posted the story from Mexico, in their own words, on Facebook and were asking people at home if they heard about it and if they had any further details. And they did. Names, road conditions, health conditions, all unconfirmed. This was four years ago. Now this happens almost every day in every newsroom in the country. And while listeners are wonderful at providing information, it’s the double checking of facts that lends to credibility. That credibility builds brand. And someday, somehow a ridiculous story comes across your ears or eyes, you’ll think: what does (The Brandon Sun, CKLQ, Global News) say about this story? And while it might take a few extra minutes to get the facts straight, it saves you from telling or sharing a story that makes you look gullible and foolish. After all, while the internet has hundreds of millions of reporters, YOU the consumer MUST be the editor. Traditional media has a gatekeeper, a fact checker, and editor. Making sure that 99.9 per cent of the time what you see, or hear or watch are the facts.
In a perfect world, traditional media could verify breaking stories instantly or almost instantly, lending credibility to most things you read, hear or see online. Most are getting there, but in the meantime I’m reminded of a great saying from US President Ronald Reagan. "Trust, but verify."
Speed is great, but must be accompanied by the other S word. Skepticism. Because some of the greatest small town gossip can come from the coffee shop (now the internet) but how many times is a juicy coffee shop story just like the party planner story from the Olympics?
JOKE THIS WEEK
Two seniors were discussing the secret to a long marriage, during a half century celebration. As they share a beer together, one says to the other "When it comes to sex, I'm like an Olympic athlete."
The other replies "So you pursue your wife, like the quest for gold, every day?"
"Not really" said the first man. "I train every day for an event that happens once every four years."
Terra McDavid Wolski
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 15, 2014