Back when I served as copy editor and resident chucklehead for the Norman Transcript, my nights usually consisted of monitoring the police scanner, picking up dinner for the newsroom and, around 10:30 p.m., proofreading Clay Horning’s sports pages.
Clay was (and is) arguably the best journalist at The Tranny, but the paper’s longtime sports editor was also sometimes known to be the prickly sort, routinely uttering sarcasm like, “Let’s just run the paper with a rubber stamp,” and once being briefly suspended for his hilarious refusal to attend a supposedly “voluntary” meeting with the United Way.
But he valued his sports pages, and even though I technically wasn’t in the sports department, he always wanted my eyes on the proofs, often punctuating his requests for second reads with the phrase “read my column.”
One night, Horning put the front page of the sports section on my desk and walked off. Without thinking, I circled a glaring error in red and blurted out, “Well, let’s get the date right!”
Ten years later, I find myself using “let’s get the date right” as an old catchphrase for a new problem: the unintentional recycling of old articles as new news on social media like Facebook.
It has been getting on my nerves substantially.
Breaking news: Time now cyclical, no longer linear
Unfamiliar with this new and unfortunate trend of which I speak? Don’t worry, I’ve been saving screenshots.
Here’s one from a couple months ago when former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was still running for president:
Thank goodness for the social media neighborhood watch and vigilant members like OU professor, Huffington Post columnist and bulldog enthusiast Keith Gaddie, who quickly pointed out that his friend had shared an 11-year-old news report about Bush’s son.
History repeats itself
Another recent occurrence of old stories becoming inaccurately viral a year later centers on a bill that passed an Oklahoma House committee to defund AP U.S. history classes … in 2015.
Let’s educate our children to “get the date right,” maybe, and while we’re at it, perhaps they can learn how numerous bills pass committee only to stall during the rest of the legislative process, like that one did.
History repeats itself again
Of course, this sort of phenomenon also plays itself out when people praise “news” they think is positive.
When I saw this story posted early in the 2016 legislative session, my thumb instinctively clicked “like” even as my mind started to realize it was out of its time element for a rather obvious reason — neither of the people pictured is still in the Legislature.
As I noted in my comment, the bill in question was from 2012, and it failed even to meet its House deadline.
An obituary with a life of its own
While it’s unfortunate that Oklahoma high schools are still not required to teach about the Tulsa Race Riot, other stale stories circling the Internet drain make me even more sad:
Yes, James Garner is still dead and has been since 2014.
The good news — if there is any — should be that ’70s-style cocktail lounge Rockford has a picture of the Norman native on the men’s room door. (I highly suggest you acknowledge “Jimbo” or “Rockfish” the next time you’re on your way to the toilet there, although that’s beside the point.)
Dead air > wrong air
But none of these social media zombie-links had really proven too costly until Monday. When I arrived at Tyler Media radio studios around 7:15 a.m., Mitchell in the Morning host Scott Mitchell was busy breaking news to his listeners.
“This is troubling news, folks,” the political commentator said sternly. “President Johnson is sending more troops into Vietnam.”
I cocked my head and laughed, only to learn during commercial break that Mitchell had heard his competitors at another station reading a news story about Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger earlier in the morning.
The story in question, of course, involved Doerflinger being arrested for actual physical control — also known as being drunk in his car in a parking lot.
But while that’s big enough news for a radio host to read on the air Monday morning, there was a tiny problem.
The arrest and resultant NewsOK.com story were from January 2015.
“I saw it circulating on Facebook this weekend, along with James Garner having just passed away,” Mitchell told me later in the day. “I could tell it was being told through a contemporary standpoint. In all fairness to the guy, I didn’t hear the beginning, but when I tuned in, you had a guy reading the story and not giving any perspective.”
Mitchell focused his concern on how old news now risks being recycled on live radio owing to an industry-wide decrease in trained journalistic gatekeepers.
“The first thing I learned in journalism school was never ever rip and read AP wire copy, so I’ve expanded it to, ‘Never read something off of Facebook,'” the communications veteran said. “It’s irresponsible, and it’s offensive when you put someone behind a microphone or a camera who doesn’t know their ass from first base.”
But therein lies the big challenge with digital news these days.
While errors regarding dates or context used to be confined to specific print editions or broadcasts, readers now have the ability to cause their own errors in the public discourse by posting an old story as if it’s new or by sharing satire while thinking it’s serious. In the world of “citizen journalists,” we now have citizen fact errors.
We all — as readers and sharers of news — must be aware of context and time frame in this digital world.
And we can start by getting the damn date right.