Chinese Whispers in Journalism

She wasn’t in it for the money but the media vilified her…

The New York Times’ effort to explain the story also revealed a deeper issue with Journalism and the modern advances in social media; Journalism’s Chinese whispers.

If you’ve ever played Chinese whispers with a group of friends you’ll know it never ends well, whether it’s poor pronunciation, lack of hearing or simply wanting to change the sentence, the end result is almost always different.

Now imagine Chinese whispers when spreading news, news about real people with real emotions and real repercussions for the individual. The New York times showed how Journalists can skew the news ever so slightly and change the entire narrative.

She wasn’t in it for the money but the media vilified her…

When word went out that a woman was suing McDonald’s for 2.9 million dollars, every newspaper immediately jumped to fit the story in their next paper. Every talk show had to feature the topic and every single person had their own opinion.

Suddenly, “A Woman who was rushed to hospital, suffered third-degree burns after she spilled McDonald’s coffee on her lap sitting in a parked car”, turned it…

“McDonald’s suffer a 2.9-million-dollar lawsuit after a woman spilt coffee on herself while driving”.

It’s still debated whether the publicity of the case had an effect on the jury. Not only did the journalists’ game of Chinese whispers spin the narrative, it ruined her credibility in the face of the public. Popular television series even took the time to share a joke over the issue.

She wasn’t in it for the money but the media vilified her…

Although the term Journalism’s Chinese whispers was never coined. The phrase was most prominently used during the Reuters incident, where a scientific journal was fabricated and ultimately went south for journalists who reported on the fictitious study.

With fake news travelling a 6 times quicker on twitter, social media so easily accessible, the recent popularity of podcasts and the increasingly huge Youtuber’s platform, Journalism’s game of Chinese whispers has become more and more dangerous for people being reported on. Stories such as “The Woman and The McDonalds Coffee” would’ve become even more of a global joke.

She wasn’t in it for the money but the media vilified her…

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