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Public editor: Lessons from the ‘butter coma’ hoax

The Globe's Hot Button blog was designed (as it says) to report on lifestyle news, buzz and chatter online. It is meant to be fun, water cooler chatter, but it also needs to be checked and reported. The Globe failed to do that this morning with a blog post that suggested a food writer had fallen into a "butter coma" after eating 413 biscuits before a meal.

The story began with the Rock City times website, which bills itself as "Arkansas' 2nd most unreliable news source." At the bottom of the site where the corporate information appears, it says "the content on here is presented as fictional news with an intent for humor."

The Hot Button article, based on that Rock City story, was on globeandmail.com for just under an hour this morning. The Globe reporter who wrote it had called the author of the original piece for comment but filed the post before hearing from him. When he called back, he told her it was fiction and the story was briefly pulled, then rewritten and reposted to show that it was a joke. It now includes an editor's note saying: "This story has been updated from an earlier version to reveal that it is a hoax."

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The other news sites that were fooled, including the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail in London, have removed the stories without explanation.

The Globe did the right thing by both correcting the article and acknowledging an error was made. Nonetheless, there needed to be greater vigilance, especially when it sounded pretty far-fetched. In this case, there was a rush to post without proper reporting.

Gabe Gonda, editor of Life and Arts, said, "The Hot Button blog puts a premium on entertaining, viral stories. These are among the things our online audience responds to. However, it's extremely important we remain mindful of our basic standards and our brand as we meet that appetite."

If you want to send me a note on any issues related to The Globe and Mail's journalism, please e-mail me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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