Inaccuracy of New Media | And That’s the Way it Is

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Motorcyclist Archives

What a day to be out of the office! There I was in the Santa Monica Mountains with Kevin Wing and Karel Kramer, doing a photo shoot for a Kawasaki Versys vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 comparison that will appear in a future issue, when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan back at the MC M.C. Why? Hang on, peeps, this is rich...

When we finally got back into cell-phone range, I checked my inbox to find it blowing up with e-mails titled “Harley-Davidson news story.” One was from my contact at H-D, who wrote: “Our Corporate Communications team has been recently hit-up about a ‘news’ story [link]. Although you state, ‘From the May 1918 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine,’ Corporate Comm would like us to ask you to remove the April 13 reference as a dateline. This has caused some online media outlets to reprint and/or reference the story as current.”

Say what?!

For those of you who haven’t been to our (recently redesigned) website lately, we’ve been posting one historical article per day as part of our 100th anniversary celebration. They’re filed under a tab that reads, “MC 100–From the Archives,” and at the top of each is a line that clearly states which issue that article came from. But apparently that wasn't enough to prevent some misguided websites from picking up a certain 94-year-old story…

The article in question told of Harley-Davidson building a new factory in Milwaukee that could double production. That was big news in 1918, when The Motor Company was just 15 years old, and arguably could be even bigger news today, when so much of America’s manufacturing is being moved overseas. In fact, within the past year we published a story about H-D building a new plant in India. Where, ironically, this dissemination of misinformation appears to have begun...

RushLane.com, purportedly India’s leading source for vehicle news, picked up our 1918 story and “re-reported” it (© 2012 Brian Catterson) as “news.” That, in turn, was picked up by various other online news outlets, and further spread via social networking. Of course the truth eventually came out, and RushLane updated its story, apologizing for the confusion it had caused.

Cue Apu from the Kwik-E-Mart: “I am standing here beside myself.”

That’s when things got really weird, as some sites interpreted RushLane’s apology as having come from us! The worst offender was Milwaukee’s Fox6News, which wrote: “After realizing the confusion it had caused, Motorcyclist Magazine published an apology, saying it takes full responsibility.”

Allow me to invoke Samuel L. Jackson: “Say what again?!”

We didn’t make a mistake, nor did we publish an apology—why should we for posting an article from our own archives? And while I sympathize with the folks in Harley’s Corporate Communications Department who had to field a few e-mails and phone calls regarding this matter (I wonder how many job applications they got?), don’t blame us—blame the “web bot” that found our story online and the lazy ignoramuses (ignorami?) who re-posted it without so much as re-reading it! Seems to me this series of events only served to separate the credible online media outlets from the rest…

One reporter who actually made the effort to contact us was Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Obviously seeing the humor in the situation, he wrote: “In a quirky example of new media getting tripped up over history, overseas press reports Thursday claimed that Harley-Davidson, Inc. had built a new factory in Milwaukee—with the writers not realizing they were taking inform-ation from a 94-year-old magazine article... Those who used the information, without Motorcyclist Magazine’s permission, apparently didn’t get the back-in-time angle.”

Apparently not.

Somewhere, Walter Cronkite is rolling over in his grave.  MC

By Brian Catterson
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