This morning, a bullshit story started circulating not solely because it was nonsense, but because the URL on the Independent website called it out as such, reading “utter PR fiction but people love this shit so fuck it lets just print it,” or in full: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/utter-PR-fiction-but-people-love-this-shit-so-fuck-it-lets-just-print-it-2269573.html. The hilarious URL was passed around a bunch because it rang so true — how much more of this royal wedding bullshit will we have to put up with? — but slowly an explanation came out: anyone can retype any words in that space and arrive at the same story so long as the numbers at the end stay the same. For example: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/read-more-in-Press-Clips-our-daily-media-column-2269573.html.
URL LOLs: The Independent has since amended this note under the articles first paragraph: “A faked url for this story has been circulated widely. Please read an explanation and our apology here.” The paper’s online editor wrote, self-seriously, in a statement:
Users were then concerned that a disgruntled sub-editor was responsible. (And I can promise categorically it never existed on out site.)
The trouble is that our site helpfully resolves updated or incorrect urls to the matching story ID. It was designed as a feature and not a bug – and we are not alone in this problem. The feature has search engine benefits but from an editorial perspective it enables us to change repeatedly a headline on a moving article.
We are however acting urgently (as are now some of our major competitors) to find a way to avoid such abuse and hope that will be in place shortly.
Meanwhile I can only apologise and profess our embarrassment that we were caught out.
Nieman Lab expands on that explanation, explaining that putting words in the URL helps the article perform better on search engines like Google. But Nieman also expertly points out that many, many news organizations employee this trick and are therefore vulnerable to such hoaxes. Observe:
St. Petersburg Times: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/fire/obama-was-born-in-kenya/1164650
Both of the above links (plus a bunch more) work perfectly and proliferate a lie. Unfortunately, for news organizations gaming Google is presumably more important than online pranksters perpetrating a minor hack, so it’s not like to change any time soon, unless, of course, the fix is as easy as the break.
Downsides of Print: Though we make plenty of typos, we tend to do them where they’re automatically fixable, thanks to the magical internet. The redesigned Adweek — which features sexism prominently right out of the gate — misspelled the gaming company Zynga as “Zenga” on its very first updated cover:
Although, maybe Michael Wolff did it for the attention.
Staffing Up: Reuters, possibly not wanting to be left out of the personnel flexing at Bloomberg L.P. (and the upcoming Bloomberg View), HuffPo and elsewhere during this relatively rich time for media jobs, have gone on a hiring spree of their own, adding former Wall Street Journal man and Dow Jones Newswires President Paul Ingrassia as deputy editor-in-chief, in addition to Stuart Karle, once the Journal‘s general counsel, Reginald Chua, also formerly of the Journal and Jim Gaines, who was most recently the managing editor of anoter one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, but the iPad one, The Daily. Consider this particular message sent — directly to Mr. Murdoch.