When WSFA-TV (Montgomery, Ala.) reporter Jennifer Oravet read in The Onion that PR firm Hill & Knowlton was advising the U.S. to cut ties with Alabama, she went to work, made a phone call and posted her findings on Facebook:
“I contacted the PR firm listed in this article, they claim the article is ‘ficticious’ and have no involvement in the alleged study.”
Actually, Jennifer, all Onion articles are fictitious. (Just one c.)
Did she know that when she put in the call to Hill & Knowlton? I called WSFA to find out and was told that Oravet is taking the day off. A newsroom colleague – she wouldn’t give me her name – insisted that the reporter/anchor knew the Hill & Knowlton/Alabama story was fake from the start.
“It doesn’t sound like it based on her Facebook post,” I said.
“Did you see her report?” the colleague asked.
I said I had, and figured she had been set straight about The Onion before going on air. Wrong, I was told — Oravet always knew it was a satirical paper.
WSFA Facebook commenters have their doubts, too. One writes:
“I don’t know what’s better, her original post, or her backpedaling to ‘cover up; her mistake. I’ve done dummy things like that (most recent when I applauded Beyonce at the inauguration… lip sync anyone?) but come on, admit you’re stupid sometimes just like the rest of us.”
Another person writes:
“LOL, so I read through the comments and I see that someone “demands” we give [her] a break. Seriously?? Someone takes the Onion as serious and we should give a break??? Eff that, this was a fail of epic proportions and should be exploited to the nth degree. There’s honestly no coming back from this! Only in Bama!”
I’ve emailed Oravet for comment, hoping she occasionally checks in on days off. I also called and emailed WSFA news director Scott Duff earlier this afternoon.
UPDATE: Duff called me on Monday morning and said: “Jennifer knew it was a fictitious site. We were not in any way hoodwinked by the Onion. …She is an excellent reporter and knew from the very start that the story was fictitious.”
“These laminated cards were distributed this week to Oregonian newsroom employees,” writes a Romenesko reader. “Note: nothing about holding government accountable, informing the public, comforting the afflicted, etc.”
I can tell you that The O’s newsroom is as vigilant as ever about watchdog journalism. If you need those values to be printed on a card in order to live them, you’re doing this journalism thing all wrong. I just spent eight months on an investigation into sleeping public-transit bus drivers, with the editors and the newspaper’s management standing unflinchingly behind me with whatever I needed — every step of the way.
A Romenesko reader writes: “A coupon was placed in [Chattanooga Times Free Press] employees’ last paychecks, good for a one-topping Papa John’s pizza. What a coincidence. A few days later, Papa Johns is the centerpiece on page 1 on the eve of the Super Bowl.”
About a week later, Papa John’s was featured in a pre-Super Bowl story.
I asked Times Free Press president Jason Taylor about his memo and the Papa John’s story. He responded: “Papa Johns is a great partner of ours but I can promise you advertising had no influence on that coverage. These two departments constantly battle. I can guarantee you there is no influence between the two. Our employee relations committee decided to give monthly gifts to our employees for fun. They chose advertisers to purchase the gifts. I wish they would have given us a discount. :-)”
Since so many people are wary of being misquoted or blurting out an infelicity that goes viral, email is a comforting medium for those who want to be sure they say exactly what they want to say and have a written record of what they have said.
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