Lazy journalists lazily recycle tale of lazy journalism

I’ve been greatly enjoying the unfolding Wanky Balls saga initiated by Kat Arney this week. Kat is a fellow science writer, a scientist, and a PR at Cancer Research UK – in which capacity I sometimes find her output in my inbox. She is also a musician and blogger of some merit, which is what led to this week’s social networking sensation.

Kat noticed something odd about a photograph in the Independent newspaper on Saturday. It showed some people attending the Big Chill Festival and, startlingly, the caption claimed that the event began in 1994 as the ‘Wanky Balls Festival’.

After a little investigation, it seemed clear that this untrue claim was based on the simple repetition of a spot of wiki-vandalism. The term had been added, probably as a joke, to the Wikipedia entry for Big Chill.

There it had been seen by somebody at the Indy, most likely a subeditor who found that the words supplied with the picture by the photographer were just slightly insufficient for the space available. Needing an extra sentence, the sub dipped into Wikipedia, found the gem of a factoid, and – hey presto! –¬†the page was finished.

Oh how we laughed, when Kat first blogged on the topic. Oh how we looked forward to the humiliating correction the newspaper might carry, and how we delighted in the potential for coverage in Private Eye and other esteemed organs.

And then the story really took off. Kat had blogged, and then tweeted and Facebooked the blog. The story was picked up in multiple places, including the Register, Subs’ Standard, and Bitter Wallet. Each of these revelled in the story, much as I’m doing, and each added their own take on the apparent lazy journalism. Tut tut, they all went.

But here’s the remarkable thing: they each reproduced the photograph of the newspaper clipping from Kat Arney’s blog. None of them thought to get their own copy of the paper, or take their own picture of it.

I know the Independent isn’t doing too well at the moment, but it is a national newspaper and copies aren’t that hard to come by.

Isn’t there an irony in the lazy reproduction of somebody else’s photograph, to illustrate¬†articles excoriating lazy journalism?