Joe O'Donnell - who?
I came across this interesting read in PDN online: http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/newswir..._id=1003635093
There was an article about this in the Online Photographer a couple of days ago.
It's not really unusual for there to be people who claim to be something they are not. I hope it is unusual when journalists fail to check facts before writing stories.
It's probably true that obits of well-known personages are accurate because the news media keeps deep files of its own that it "builds" over time. But there are probably many instances of "embellished" stories in the obits of lesser-knowns, such as O'Donnell.
Originally Posted by Lee Shively
Also, I've noticed how often the Times nowadays will pick-up a wire story obit for someone like O'Donnell. And, with cutbacks in staffing such as "fact checkers", its unsurprising that this could happen as they no longer seem to verify the wire stories like they once did.
In this case, the deceased apparently had a self-promotional website for a number of years. One can well imagine a tech-savvy but not necessarily "seasoned" journalist taking stuff off of it at face value.
It all sounds a bit like the Joyce Hatto affair (see Wikipedia et al for the details)
Originally Posted by Lee Shively
Hopeless optimism! Besides, you can't check every fact -- and sometimes, 'facts' are open to interpretation, such as 'George Bush is an idiot' (sorry, 'a idiot') or 'George Bush is a genius'.
Plus, it's very easy to mis-remember something, and I'd much rather read a piece by a journalist who gets most of it right (and admits when he's wrong) than a piece by a journalist who checks every single 'fact' by relying on (let us say) official Chinese Government sources, or the Pentagon.
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Not checking if the most prominent work by a photographer is actually his is hardly a minor oversight. Would his obit have made the NY Times if they hadn't thought the JFK Jr photo was his? I doubt it.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but if a journalist doesn't know if something is true, he shouldn't be publishing it. They can omit the unverified parts. It's the central concept behind journalism.
Originally Posted by Terence
Yes, I'll correct you, because you are indeed wrong. How long have you been a working journalist? As far as I recall, I joined the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) in '77; and then left because I didn't like their politics.
The central concept behind journalism is selling newspapers/magazines. You can't check every alleged fact; you publish the ones you reasonably believe to be true. Yes, you sometimes make mistakes, but as the old saying goes, if you've never made a mistake, you've never made anything.
Get your facts too wrong, too, often, and you'll find yourself out of a job. Unless of course your politics are such that your readers don't care what a sloppy job you do, or unless you're a really entertaining writer. But make no mistake: journalism (like politics, and philosophy, as published) is mostly a branch of entertainment. People read to have their prejudices confirmed or, if they are a bit smarter, challenged. The same 'fact' can be reported by ten different reporters, ten different ways; and each may be defensible.
I'm not defending a mistake of this magnitude. I hope that I'd have looked at some of the pictures; thought "I didn't know he shot that"; checked around a bit; and find that maybe he hadn't shot all of them (or any of them). But journalism is not a plodding pseudo-academic discipline, to be supported with armies of fact-checkers and footnotes, and I might have got it wrong too. Anyone who pretends otherwise has never been at the sharp end of journalism. Or even the blunt end.
Before trashing O'Donnell too badly on this, read this response from his son:
If I had been present at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better arrangement of the Universe.
Alfonso the Wise, 1221-1284
Roger, like any other field, philosophy and practice differ. Although you may not be a structural engineer (my field), you know that the principal concept behind it is to design a structure that safely carries the loads it is likely to see so as to prevent damage to lives or property.
Does it get met every time in practice? Obviously not.
The Society of Professional Journalism's Code of Ethics would seem to agree with me on the basic concept of journalism being to report the verifiable truth. See "Seek Truth and Report It" at : http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
To some that concept was important enough that we in the U.S. decided to give it a little extra prtoection in our Bill of Rights.
Making no apparent effort to verify the main claim to fame of Mr. O'Donnell (and a big claim to fame at that), would seem to have fallen far short of this ideal.
So I thank you for your effort to tutor me on journalism and it's apparent primary differences between it and my field where:
 We at least try to learn from the prior failures in our field and try not to repeat them.
 We at least try not to let profit motives from compromising our decision making as to what is right and wrong.
Learn something new every day here . . .
P.S. Please note that my response is meant somewhat in jest. Sarcasm does not always get conveyed properly over the internet.
Originally Posted by johnnywalker
Thanks for providing the qualifying information. As I suspected, it was more a case of "embellishment" than one of "misrepresentation".
Originally Posted by Terence
Your forbearance is extremely diplomatic and extraordinary in its graciousness.
I have no idea why anyone would defend a polemical press publication/site approach to news in this day and age. It's just so easily refutable as to be laughable.
Indeed, what the link in John's post points out is the very necessity of "serious media" to regularly correct erroneous reportage. In the web age - only a naif or child fails to recognize when a media website is really just a cover for ideological crap.
It's not like this is the mid-20th C. and we're all supposed to agree that "Pravda" really means "Truth"!