Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cut-and-paste journalism

A few days ago, one of the most popular online news services in The Netherlands, carried a news item on the US diplomatic cables that were leaked by WikiLeaks last weekend. The article detailed a particular leak in which it was alleged that China was behind the attack on Google earlier this year, something that everyone already suspected, including as it now turned out the US diplomatic corps. When I read the article, the following phrase immediately caught my attention:

"[…] blijkt dat het Chinese Politbureau, het uitvoerende orgaan van vele communistische partijen in het land, de aanval opzette en uitvoerde."

Which translates to:

"[…] it was apparent that the Chinese Politburo, the executive committee of many communist parties in the country, devised and executed the attack."

Hang on. Many communist parties in the country? Since when does China have more than one communist party?

Such an error alone would be bad enough, but I was intrigued by the question of how it got in there. So I looked up the entry on "Politbureau" on the Dutch Wikipedia. The first line of the entry reads:

"Het Politbureau […] is het uitvoerend orgaan van vele (communistische) partijen."

Which translates to:

"The Politburo […] is the executive committee of many (communist) parties."

So whoever wrote the article, upon coming across the word Politburo in the original news feed, decided that an explanation of the term Politburo was in order. He or she then went to Wikipedia, copied the first line into the article, and added, rather thoughtlessly, "in the country" at the end to make it pertinent to China, thereby introducing a glaring error.

It's the worst kind of cut-and-paste journalism.

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