The latest issue of the UK Press Gazette (not online, unfortunatly) exposes the shocking level of fact-checking in British regional journalism. Roger Stachis, trying to promote his new web site, duped “more than 10″ regional papers — including the Cambridge Evening News, the Croydon Guardian the Bath Chronicle, the Middleton Guardian, and the Solihull Times — into believing he was a local boy done good.
Each of the papers ran a version of the story that Stachis had caught the attention of Silicon Valley venture capitalists, who were offering him several thousand pounds for a stake in his web site. Stachis had done his homework, backing his claim to being locally “born and bred” by naming local schools that he claimed to have attended and even streets that he claimed to have lived on. None of the papers bothered to verify any of it. The deception was finally discovered when reporter Kevin Shoesmith of the Swindon Evening Advertiser tried to confirm the claims.
Ironically, a feature in the same issue of Press Gazette provides advice on using six online research tools for journalists. Had the reporters learned to use these tools earlier, they would have found out lots about Stachis via Google News: From the Daily Post in north Wales, they would have found out that Stachis is from a town called Buckley. They might also have learned that nearly identical text ran in the Croydon Guardian, except, predictably, the claim that Stachis is from that south London suburb. The Middleton Guardian, based near Manchester, went further:
Roger Stachis, originally from Coniston Drive officially launched www.hoowot.com last Friday, and is already receiving attention from Silicon Valley bigwigs, including a five-figure funding offer from venture capitalists.
Roger, aged 24, attended Queen Elizabeth Secondary School before taking an HND then BSC in Computer Science at Nottingham Trent University. He is currently on a back-packing holiday in Europe and says he wants to take up teaching or lecturing when he returns. Explaining the unique nature of hoowot.com, Roger said: “It turns the traditional search engine concept on its head. It’s just one giant noticeboard! Instead of automated software ‘crawling’ the web looking for information, the information comes to hoowot from its users.”
Not to be scooped, the Scunthorpe Telegraph reported:
In its first month, more than 6,000 people logged on to hoowot.com, which was created by Roger Stachis, from Belton – and its popularity appears to be spreading round the globe. Hoowot.com’s success has already been noticed by some of the big players in the cyber business, with one company already promising to back the site to the tune of a five-figure sum.</p>
“Some people are already comparing hoowot’s fortunes to the likes of Google and Friendstar – both privately funded small-time start-ups, which were a tearaway success from day one.
Stachis is from Plumstead in the News Shopper; the The Free Press in north Wales “can reveal” that he’s from Corwen; the Ilkeston Advertiser thinks he’s from Little Hallam “and a former pupil of Ilkeston School”. It goes on and on.
As a publicity stunt, it was obviously pretty successful — and the meta-journalism about the incident (including, I’m afraid, this post) will only give Stachis even more publicity. But it will also leave a permanent record of the deception. Not all publicity is good publicity.