Evolution of a Rumour: A Guide to Online Journalism

Movies News Headlines - Page 1 - Digital Spy

Filling a film news site isn’t hard. Every day you will be sent dozens of press releases which are ready to be regurgitated as content and lots of brands will email asking to pay you so that they can write articles for your site in exchange for all-important links. And at the end of the day if you run out of sponsored posts, glorified press releases, and competitions you can always just make up a rumour, makes vague references to sources, and post it as if it were fact.

I have been following the casting rumours for Fifty Shades of Grey with vague interest ever since Felicity Jones had her name thrown into the mix by fans of the books. We are fans of Jones here at Mild Concern and the thought of her appearing in what was potentially soft-core porn was as exciting as it was worrying. All the speculation ended earlier this week when it was announced that Dakota Johnson would be taking the role and I could stop fretting about it or giving bizarre interviews to anyone.

Then yesterday I was lured back in by the following headline on Digital Spy:

Felicity Jones turned down 50 Shades of Grey over full frontal nudity?

“How interesting,” I thought. “Allow me to read their exclusive interview with Felicity Jones on the matter.” How naive. The question mark in the title should have been a dead giveaway. Instead the article simply stated that she “is said to have objected to the movie’s scenes of full frontal nudity”. They do not go on to elaborate as to who said this or where they got the story from. The article then goes on to discuss random details about the film and ends with a slideshow of images of Dakota Johnson. The content of the article relating to their fabricated bit of news was so small I felt the need to represent the article as a whole in a pie chart:

Digital Spy Chart

Annoyed I ranted on Twitter and got on with my day until coming across a similar article on the Metro website:

Felicity Jones turned down Fifty Shades of Grey Anastastia Steele role over full frontal nudity?

Such a familiar headline! I wonder where they got their information from? The Metro were good enough to pad out the story they may or may not have found on Digital Spy as they included a brief quote from their interview with Jones in which she said “It all depends on the film-maker and script, just like any other job.” So they have a direct quote from the actress… in which she says nothing to support the story. Their chart of relevant content in their article is slightly more favourable:

Metro Chart

Before the day was out the “story” was on multiple sites, none with a source, but all littered with question marks and words like “reportedly”, “apparently”, and “sources say”. Perez Hilton ran the non-story with the following charming image:

Perez Hilton

The only story I read which cited a source was The Fan Carpet which regurgitated the story but included the phrase “according to The Wrap“. As is the case when I’m in an investigative mood I couldn’t not follow the trail and scoured The Wrap for the source of this story. And there it was. It was not in an article about Felicity Jones but a broader piece on the actors who are actually in the film:

Inside Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson’s ‘50 Shades of Grey’ Casting: Chemistry Tests to the Dotted Line

The vital piece of the article that mentions our favourite actress goes as follows: “Make no mistake, several young actresses turned down the role of Anastasia due to the full frontal nudity it requires, including Felicity Jones.” Look how minuscule Felicity Jones was in this article:

The Wrap Chart

One passing mention to the fact that she turned down the role (unconfirmed) and that it may have been due to the nudity (unconfirmed) and numerous other sites claim this as a lead story and clog the internet by reporting it as news.

All that from a passing comment. And now we’re involved too!

So don’t worry about reporting actual film news, just make it up, infer it from someone else, and make sure you use a question mark so that you can’t be sued for libel. Have fun!