A video clip falsely labelled as a ferry battling rough seas in the Cabot Strait has raised questions about how news organizations deal with online sources after it made its way onto television news broadcasts across Canada.
The dramatic 90-second video, which features a vessel slamming into massive waves, was incorrectly identified as a Marine Atlantic ferry between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on the popular website YouTube last week.
Since the weekend, parts of the clip were shown on Newfoundland's NTV, Global's station in Halifax, CTV's Canada AM andseveral local CTV news broadcasts around the country.
Viewers e-mailed the video to NTV — which passed it on to its national affiliate, CTV — and to Global, the stations said.
None of the stations checked with Marine Atlantic, which thinks the video was shot off the coast of New Zealand.
Global anchor Allan Rowe, who is also the station's news director, introduced the clip in a Wednesday evening broadcast as a video "shot by one of our Global viewers."
"Given the time constraints and the subject matter of the video and the nature that we were using it, we clearly didn't review it as well as we should have," Rowe said in an interview. He planned to broadcast a correction Thursday evening."It won't happen again."
Robert Hurst, president of CTV News, said the network trusted the video it received from NTV, and stressed that an apology was aired as soon as CTV learned there was a mistake.
Still, he acknowledged that the popularity of sites such as YouTube poses a new danger for journalists.
"With this explosion, the challenge really is to make sure that we are not being caught or duped, to authenticate the source and the realism of this material," Hurst said.
NTV's news director, Jim Furlong, said the two reporters assigned to check out the video each thought the other was calling Marine Atlantic. In the end, no calls were made.
Faster access, but mistakes easier to make
Prof. Mary McGuire, who teaches journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, said the internet gives reporters faster access to information, but mistakes become easier to make.
"The old rules about how you need to check and double check before you take things at face value, we need to bring those back," McGuire said in a telephone interview.
She said rumours and falsehoods can quickly turn into facts as they spread through the web, and professional news agencies need to offer a level of trust that YouTube and online blogs can't.
"I think educated news consumers look to news organizations for credible stuff," she said.
"It's what they have to offer that citizen journalists don't, the credibility of checking things out."
Passengers cancelled bookings
Marine Atlantic spokeswoman Tara Laing said the video prompted some passengers to cancel their bookings, but she said most of the fallout appears to be over.
"I think the fact that it went throughout the internet was a big thing, because that allowed it to travel quite quickly," Laing said.
"Once it hit the mainstream media, there is a perception out there that it's absolute gospel."
YouTube allows anyone with a computer and an internet connection to post videos for immediate public consumption. The site's posting guidelines prohibit videos that contain damaging "falsehoods or misrepresentations."
Several copies of the ferry video remain on the site with the wrong description, while others have been corrected or removed.