The Case Of The Dumb Gravity Journalist Is A Great Lesson In The 'Re-Imagining' Of Daily News Feeds

Picture: Warner Bros

It’s tough out there when you’re a home page editor in digital news world.

You’re trying to make the transition from your local print daily, where old ladies still need help with their cats, into a world where a grillion amazing stories are coming at you by the minute.

Your publisher’s waving metrics at you, the competition’s shamelessly ripping T’n’A clickbait from around the world.

Sometimes the pressure just gets to you, especially in those “There’s no news” moments.

As luck would have it, that’s exactly when some a***hat comedian infiltrates a press conference with the Hollywood director of the moment.

Last night, to be precise, when Mexican journalist Carlos “El Capi” Pérez asked Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron: “What were the technical and human difficulties of filming in space?

“Was it very difficult, very complicated to film in space? Did the camera operators get sick?”

Cue stifled giggles from his fellow reporters, followed by the fantastically straight response from Cuaron:

Well yeah, we took some cameras in the Soyuz [spacecraft], russian missions. We were there for three and a half months, right? Three and half months in space.

I have proof that we were there. There is a moment in the movie where we let a reflection of the camera crew slip, I’m in it and so is Chivo floating in the reflection of the visor. Right there in space. I can’t tell you what part it is but with the DVD you can do the freeze frame and you’ll see us. We were there.

Most outlets couldn’t believe such a dumb question could be asked in the CGI age. It didn’t take long for them to realise that Pérez worked for a comedy show not unlike The Daily Show called Deberían Estar Trabajando (You Should Be Working).

Some others, however, weren’t prepared to let a little backgrounding ruin their chance at a winning headline. Most notably, latintimes.com:

The “Deberían Estar Trabajando” reporter incurred in two mistakes when asking his question. First self-proclaimed himself as a film lover and filmmaker and if you are either of those you know films are filmed not “recorded,” although with advances in technology digital cameras are becoming a norm, so the term could be correct in this case. The second mistake was the obvious, just pulling up the Wikipedia page dedicated to the movie you can find out where “Gravity” was filmed and should have honored the title of his show and “should be working” in doing research before the press conference.

Oh dear. But we’ve all made mistakes.

Myself, I once truly believed that a Brazilian woman claimed she got pregnant watching 3D porn. Desperate to be first to “re-report” this hilarious news, I ripped it off in four paragraphs and planted it squarely on the homepage I was editing at the time.

But that was several years ago, and by now we should all probably know better than not crosschecking a seemingly irresistible story.

One large player in that “news reimagined” game, the Huffington Post, wrote up the Pérez gag as news, before adding a clarification at the bottom of the story later.

Another, Australia’s News Ltd, went for the jugular in a much more embarrassing way.

Here’s some of the text:

Will his workmates ever let him forget about this?

An entertainment reporter from a Mexican TV show was humiliated after asking the director of science fiction thriller Gravity an incredibly stupid question at a press conference.

The journalist… has been bagged out relentlessly on Twitter… but he’s doing his best to fight back.

The “fight back” on Twitter by Pérez was at the least a masterful piece of trolling as his press conference work:


(“Excuse me Twitter for being a professional committed to information.”)


(“Don’t tell me I was the only one who had that doubt.”)

News has since clarified things. Sort of. Pérez “insists it was a joke”, which kind of implies Pérez is the one doing the backtracking, not News Ltd.

Plenty of others, such as the Daily Mail, have added updates and clarifications.

But really? In 2013, where space science is kind of solid and CGI is the first budget consideration in any Hollywood film, how could anyone believe that a reporter asking if a movie was directed a couple of hundred kilometres above the Earth was serious?

The kind of person who thinks you can actually get pregnant watching 3D porn, I guess. (Coincidentally, that happened while I was working for news.com.au.) For the record, that story was first aired back in 2010. It’s still being rewritten and recirculated.

Rip-and-post journalism is the norm in the digital era. It’s not pretty, but it is simply a fact of life if you want to be a major aggregate player.

The lesson here for digital editors is really the same old maxim that’s been trotted out to journalists since the game began: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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