I shoddily researched the news today, oh boy

11 09 2008

If you thought journalism was all about hard nosed, dedicated mavericks with a thirst for the truth giving their all to get to the bottom of things then think again. Apparently you can just google a company, find a six years out of date article on them, publish it as ‘news’, wiping millions off the company’s share price and still call yourself a ‘journalist’ these days. Thanks to Librarian of Fortune for pointing out Income Securities Advisers‘ publication of a story announcing United Airlines’ filing for bankruptcy on September 8 this year, when in fact the request for bankruptcy was reported back in December 2002. As reported on Forbes.com:

Its impact on United’s stock was swift and terrible. In the span of 10 minutes, 24 million shares changed hands. The stock, trading at $12.45, crashed to $3, according to Nasdaq. So severe was the market’s response that Nasdaq halted trading from 11:06 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The exchange says the rest of the day’s trades will stand.

The problem, as most in the financial news industry and traders around the world now know, was that the story was six years old. The Chicago Tribune story ran Dec. 10, 2002, and appears to have been republished or resurfaced accidentally Sunday afternoon on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel‘s site.

So, not terribly impressive then. What is good is the way in which this highlights the importance of information literacy (IL) in the ‘real’ world beyond academia. One of the selling points of IL is its necessity in students’ future working lives and this unfortunate series of events serves to emphasise just how severe the implications of not interrogating your sources can be. Not that every mistake is going to involve in single-handedly destroying the stock profile of an established international airline, but it wouldn’t hurt if people were just a tiny bit afraid of messing up in their research. This IL tutorial from UCLA makes good use of real life cases to stree the importance of avoiding plagiarism, something there should really  be more of in information literacy training.

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