Should journalists or sources hire PR firms when stories turn out false?

A source who misled a New York magazine reporter has hired a public relations agency to help him through the mess. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

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There is an old saying in journalism: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Journalists are taught to be skeptical and to back their work up with multiple sources and research. It is the cornerstone of the Fourth Estate and the basis for news media credibility. Unfortunately, that high standard is not always met during the rush to get a story first. The old journalism credo of checking it out sometimes is modified, at least unofficially, to: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Two high-profile, head-scratching examples of the failures of journalism have occurred in recent weeks: New York magazine’s reporting that a teenage stock trader made $72 million, and Rolling Stone‘s coverage of an alleged University of Virginia rape victim. In each case, additional reporting, and some skepticism by editors would have changed or even killed the stories.

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