Skepticism is key

25 Jan

If I was an editor presented with this story, I would like to say that I would be skeptical enough to put up a red flag. I would like to think I would smell something fishy and question the writer. But, at first when reading this story, I simply was caught up in the story itself. I forgot to be a journalist with a skeptical eye. I was blinded by the tiny dog’s plight, the woman’s emotion, and the husband’s interesting reaction. It took a few minutes for everything to settle and for me to start asking some questions that needed answers. I would like to say editors are perfect, but they are really just human. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes it is difficult to switch modes from reader to editor. An editor has to be looking for mistakes, holes and weak points in the story that could be made better. My advice to the editor who gave this story the OK would be to question everything and to always have his or her editing “thinking cap” on. An editor should especially remember to think critically and look for elements that do not add up. Editors are there to serve the readers. They need to be looking out for false information to protect readers.

I would ask the reporter questions like what was the dog’s name? I would ask him where the details were in the story. As is, the story reads more like an anecdote. I would ask exactly what kind of dog it was, how the dog was acting when it was swooped up, the name and location of the gas station, and why there is only one actual source for the story. The reporter only directly quotes one person, the gas station attendant. I would ask if he tried to get in touch with the owners of the dog or any spectators that witnessed the event happen.

This one particular instance truly delineates some of the current issues facing journalists today. The world and its information is constantly accessible today. This leaves journalists, especially at daily newspapers, looking for the quirky and unique story to attract readers. They look for that story that few others have that will stand out to their readers. Sometimes editors are blinded by the flashy facts that would make a great story. But, editors cannot allow themselves to be blinded. They have to be continuously skeptical. This goes to show that the only facts you can really trust are ones you’ve fact checked yourself. Anyone can really put anything on the Internet today and claim that it’s true. As editors, we have to be extremely skeptical and question everything so that our readers can come to trust us and the information we deliver.

One tool that journalists can use in their search for truth is Quora. This is a site where you can post a question about basically anything and then people can answer it. Quora is useful to journalists in that they can use it to find story ideas, to find sources, to formulate your interview questions, and even see what people are saying. For instance, I used it in relation to this story.
I posted the question: Can a bald eagle pick up a small dog and fly away with it?
The response I received was from Ricardo Dueño, Researcher:
It depends on the weight of the dog if a bald eagle can pick up beavers and deer fawns it can pick up a dog weighing less than fifteen pounds.—————————————————————————————————– Diet
The Bald Eagle’s diet is opportunistic and varied, but most feed mainly on fish. In the Pacific Northwest, spawning trout and salmon provide most of the Bald Eagles’ diet.Locally, eagles may rely largely on carrion, especially in winter, and they will scavenge carcasses up to the size of whales, though it seems that carcasses ofungulates and large fish are preferred. They also may sometimes feed on subsistence scavenged or stolen from campsites and picnics, as well as garbage dumps. Mammalian prey includes rabbitsharesraccoonsmuskratsbeavers, anddeer fawns. Preferred avian prey includes grebesalcidsducksgullscoots,egrets, and geese. Most live prey are quite a bit smaller than the eagle, but predatory attacks on larger birds such as swans have been recorded. Reptiles,amphibians and crustaceans (especially crabs) are preyed on when available.
With a freshly caught fish.To hunt fish, easily their most important live prey, the eagle swoops down over the water and snatches the fish out of the water with its talons. They eat by holding the fish in one claw and tearing the flesh with the other. Eagles have structures on their toes called spicules that allow them to grasp fish. Osprey also have this adaptation. Bald Eagles have powerful talons and have been recorded flying with a 15-poundMule Deer fawn. It has been estimated that the gripping power (pounds by square inch) of the bald eagle is ten times greater than that of a human. Sometimes, if the fish is too heavy to lift, the eagle will be dragged into the water. It may swim to safety, but some eagles drown or succumb to hypothermia.
 When competing for food, eagles will usually dominate other fish-eaters and scavengers, aggressively displacing mammals such as coyotes and foxes, and birds such as corvidsgullsvultures and other raptors. Bald Eagles may be displaced by themselves or by Golden Eagles. Neither species is known to be dominant, and the outcome depends on the individual animal. Occasionally, Bald Eagles will steal fish and other prey away from smaller raptors, such as Ospreys, a practice known askleptoparasitism. Healthy adult Bald Eagles are not preyed on in the wild and are thus considered apex predators. In one case, an adult eagle investigating aPeregrine Falcon nest for prey items sustained a concussion from a swooping parent Peregrine, and ultimately died days later from it.
This was useful because it helped point me in the right direction and confirmed that the eagle probably could have picked up this small dog, something I was unsure of as an editor. Not everyone can be an expert at everything. The nice thing about Quora is that experts in the field that pertains to your question will see it and answer it. It allows you to get a feel for what the right answer probably is. This expert was able to tell me that the eagle probably could have picked up the dog, which is helpful. But, as a good editor I wouldn’t stop there. My next call would be to a wildlife agency or somewhere credible that could definitely confirm this.

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