As it stands – and the numbers vary from hour to hour – there are 28,595 individual media stories posted on Google News covering the Gaza conflict. But how many of them are genuine, individual stories, based on accurate, reliable first-hand information?
That the media indulges in group-think and plagiarises each others' stories is hardly new, but it is a useful corrective to remind ourselves of how prevalent and blatant this practice really is.
Step away from Gaza for one moment, and look at a completely different issue – one we tackled yesterday, the great light-bulb story. Go to The Daily Mail and you will see a follow-up story by David Derbyshire headlined, "The low-energy bulbs that won’t fit your light sockets". It is datelined 11:03 PM on 07th January 2009.
The story is original, based on Derbyshire's own work (this, I know), and he writes: "Low-energy bulbs are incompatible with millions of lamps and sockets in homes, it has emerged … Lighting experts said many of the more bulky fluorescent lights were too large for table and standard lamps and didn't always fit older ceiling sockets." And so he goes on.
Now cut to The Daily Telegraph site and you will see a story with the by-line Lucy Cockcroft. It is datelined: 6:57AM GMT 08 Jan 2009 and headlined: "Low-energy bulbs do not fit in many standard light sockets." The strap tells us: "Low-energy light bulbs are so bulky that they do not fit in many standard lamps and light fittings, it has emerged." Cockcroft then writes: "The fluorescent lights, which will be the only type of bulb available by 2012, are also incompatible with older ceiling sockets."
And this story was written by Cockcroft? Or was it just a straight "lift" from The Daily Mail, with the words changed and the name of a new "author" substituted?
If we did this on our blog, presenting other peoples' work as our own, without sourcing or attribution, our readers would – quite rightly – crucify us. If you did this in academia – and got found out – you would be accused of plagiarism. But this is acceptable practice with the MSM, it seems.
Going back to the 28,595 Gaza stories, how many originals do you think there actually are? And going back to the source(s), how many are accurate, reliable and genuine?
(And yes, I've nicked the pic of the light bulb … from The Telegraph. It was the least I could do.)