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The Importance of Truth to Journalism Storytelling

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storytelling1Journalism storytelling is not like those “once upon a time” we used to hear in bed many years ago, although they can be very similar in some way. For example, despite both telling the same historical events, “Romance of the Three Kingdom” written by Guanzhong Luo in the 14th century is regarded as one of the greatest fictions in China, while “Record of the Three Kingdom” written by Shou Chen in the third century is seen as the official and authoritative historical text about the Three Kingdom period and later Han Dynasty’s history. The most significant difference between the two books is the use of truth, which can be also considered as the boundary line of “literary” and “literary reportage”: “Romance of the Three Kingdom” has many fictitious characters such as Chan Diao and Mao Deng, who do not appear in “Record of the Three Kingdom”. Journalism, as well as journalism storytelling, is more similar to “Record of the Three Kingdom” as they both need to tell the truth without making anything up. There is no doubt that “truth” is the most important aspect to journalism storytelling.

Internet Explorer: Victim of fake news
A news report by PC World Report in August, 2011 indicated that PC users who use Internet Explorer, the internet browser which comes together with Windows, tend to have lower IQ than those who use other internet browsers such as Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera. The result was published by a Canadian company called AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co., who claimed that they have more than 100,000 candidates who took the online IQ test. They invited users to take their test through advertising links on other websites and made a note of which browser each user was using to make the ranking (Newman, 2011). This story was also reported by many other high profile news agents such as CBC, CNN, and BBC.
This story was quite convincing at the moment. Most people believed it for three reasons. First of all, the survey was claimed to be based on a large amount of testers, and the method that AptiQuant used sounds very effective: The amount of participating testers was more than 100,000, and they came from different channels as they clicked different advertisements on different websites; also, AptiQuant did not ask the users which browser they were using but collected the data in the background so that users were unable to lie about it. Secondly, the statement that AptiQuant made fits most people’s common understanding: using one thing is stupid, using another thing is smart. This is similar to the everlasting iPhone vs. Android debate, where people argue if it is smarter to use iPhone or Android, and this debate continues even to the present days (Elite Daily, n.d.). Last but not least, Microsoft, who make Internet Explorer, did not put as much effort in promoting their own browsers than other companies such as Google who make Chrome and Mozilla who make Firefox as they believed that people have to use their browser because it is built in; yet people who were affected by the advertisements other companies made believed that using other internet browsers which comes with more features will also make them smarter.
However, the news story turned out to be a hoax. BBC news made a research on AptiQuant and found out that the company’s website was only built for a month. Moreover, the thumbnails of the company’s staffs were found identical to the ones of a Company called Central Test, which was also a psychometric testing company (BBC News, 2011). Some experts also raised their concerns towards this survey result. ZDNet expert Zack Whittaker claimed that collecting more than 100,000 candidates was a very difficult task on the Internet, and finding something meaningful from such large quantity of data would even take years (Whittaker, 2011).
The Fake News incident eventually went to an end, but the impact it brought afterwards was bigger than people predicted. Only three months after the browser hoax, a study by Ars in November, 2011 showed that web usage of Internet Explorer had dropped below 50%. It is worth noting that Internet Explorer dropped an outstanding 1.76 percent market share in two months from September while its drop rate was much lower in other period (Bright, 2011). Despite still retaining a majority of the market share, Internet Explorer is losing users rapidly, not only because of its lack of creativity and features, but also because of the browsers hoax which made a huge hit on it. Despite clarifications were made shortly after the hoax, a lot of former users of Internet Explorer decided to turn to other browsers which would make them “smarter”. In this case, Internet Explorer became the biggest victim of the hoax.

Tom Henning Ovrebo: Victim of a wrong storytelling
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel suggest that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth, and when the journalists was interviewed for a survey asking what “truth” means, 100 percent of them answered “getting the facts right” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, p.36). Therefore, it is meant that we not only need to tell the facts, but to tell them in the right way.
Tom Henning Ovrebo, a psychologist, also a Norwegian soccer referee, was one of the victims from a wrong way of storytelling. He was famous for making many controversy decisions in many important soccer matches, and the most famous one was the UEFA Champion League semi-final second leg between Chelsea and Barcelona, which he turned down four penalty appeals by Chelsea. Chelsea players were enraged that Ovrebo ignored a foul by Daniel Alves on Florent Malouda, followed by a tug on Didier Drogba by Eric Abidal, as well as two handballs by Barcelona players inside the penalty area. The match was out of control for a time and players of both teams played roughly and brutishly. After the match, despite Ovrebo told UEFA match representative that he made “significant mistakes”, members in Chelsea team all raged at Ovrebo about his referral performance (Fifield and Lawrance, 2009).
article-2148161-04D5E7C9000005DC-557_634x433The match became the headline on sports page of all news agents very soon, and all the speeches and opinions turned against Ovrebo. Almost all media expressed their compassion towards Chelsea and harshly criticism towards Ovrebo (Soccernet, 2009). As a result, Ovrebo received a death threat the very next day and his home address in Oslo, Norway was also published. In 2010, after failing in entering the final referee list of South Africa World Cup, he decided to end his international career and only continues in the Norwegian Premier League in order to escape from the harassment. But even till now, he still receives abusive emails from Chelsea fans (Wilson, 2012).
Ovrebo’s end was a tragedy made by the media. Instead of focusing on the mistakes made by the referee, the topic of how to improve the integrity of the match is more worth concerning. FIFA has urged more than one time to introduce technologies such as eagle eyes into soccer to help with referee’s job, and they also suggest having more linesmen into the match to reduce misjudgements. FIFA President Joseph Blatter claimed that July 5 2012 was historical as FIFA promised to bring goal-line technology into 2016 Brazil World Cup; FIFA also looked forward to introducing more technology which helps the fairness of the game (fifa.com, 2012). He also claimed that many misjudgements happened due to the limitation of human eyes, and that referees were not supposed to be the ones to be blamed.

Truth: Tell the fact, and tell it right
As mentioned earlier, journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. Microsoft lost millions of dollars because of the browser hoax, and Ovrebo lost his career and his safety was put in danger due to the wrong direction of reports by the media. These examples are countless and they all prove one thing: truth is the most important aspect in journalism storytelling.
Back to the basic, journalists work for the public, and they must report the truth to gain the public’s trust; it is meaningless for journalists if their publications were not accepted by the public. One of the good ways to avoid reporting false information is to uncover as much information as possible; the more information a journalist uncovers, the less he will feel like to fill the unknown block. Ultimately, journalism is to tell the truth instead of catching people’s eyes with some bogus sparkle to attract interests.

References
Newman, J. (2011, July 29). Internet Explorer Users Are Kinda Stupid, Study Suggests. Retrieved from http://www.pcworld.com/article/236944/internet_explorer_users_are_kinda_stupid_study_suggests.html
Elite Daily (n.d.). The Great Debate: iPhone Vs. Android. Retrieved October 28,2012 from http://elitedaily.com/elite/2012/great-debate-iphone-drod/
BBC News (2011, August 3). Internet Explorer Story was Bogus. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14370878
Whittaker, Z. (2011, August 3). Internet Explorer users ‘stupid’: Story was a hoax. Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/blog/btl/internet-explorer-users-stupid-story-was-a-hoax/53845
Bright, P. (2011, November 2). The end of an era: Internet Explorer drops below 50% of Web usage. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2011/11/the-end-of-an-era-internet-explorer-drops-below-50-percent-of-web-usage/
Kovach, B. & Rosenstiel, T. (2007). The Elements of Journalism. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Fifield, D. & Lawrance A. (2009, May 7). Chelsea rage at referee for not giving them four penalties. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2009/may/07/chelsea-barcelona-referee-penalties-hiddink-terry
Soccernet (2009, May 6). Hiddink fumes at Norwegian referee’s display. Retrieved from http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story?id=643931&sec=uefachampionsleague&cc=5901
Wilson, J. (2012, April 6). Referee at centre of Barcelona controversy still receiving abusive emails from Chelsea fans. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/chelsea/9189650/Referee-at-centre-of-Barcelona-controversy-still-receiving-abusive-emails-from-Chelsea-fans.html
Fifa.com (2012, July 5). Blatter: Technology’s time has come. Retrieved from http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/organisation/marketing/qualityprogramme/news/newsid=1660614/index.html

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