Thursday, August 4, 2011...9:00 am

Modern media is rubbish #7: “We forgot to authenticate that single mum’s amnesia story last week”

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A bit late, but here’s a few problems with that really great human interest amnesia story from last week: when 34-year-old Naomi Jacobs (or 35-year-old, depending which version you read) woke up in 2008 convinced she was 15.

Naomi Jacobs, of Manchester, recalled nothing after 1992, did not know she had a son and thought she was sitting her GCSEs.

The story featured prominently in The Sun the Daily Mail and the Metro– and the details and the way the story was told were spookily similar. Naomi falls asleep dreaming of her teenage schoolboy crush, then wakes up in a scary world of computer games, mobile phones, a weird old lady looking out at her from the mirror and – worst of all – an 11-year-old boy who claims to be her son.

Apparently, Naomi was suffering from Transient Global Amnesia – a condition brought on by stress. A visit to the doctor, some TLC and time spent with her diaries helped her “piece together her memories”, which started to return after eight weeks, but which have taken her three years to recover fully.

So, what’s wrong with this story? Apart from the fact that the coverage is innumerate – Naomi is either 34 or 35, and she fell asleep in 1992 and woke up in 2008, which the Mail counts as 17 years, but many others might count as 16. Where can those one in three pupils leaving primary school struggling with the three Rs look for a career? Try journalism!

Oh – and that the Wikipedia description of Transient Global Amnesia claims it lasts less than 24 hours, and anything over that means the condition is something else. Yes, I know Wikipedia is not a proper, authoritative source. But it at least raises a question that might be worth investigating further.

I’m not saying the story isn’t true. I don’t have enough information to do that. And that’s the problem. The only source for this story is Naomi Jacobs herself. And she has a book to publicise – a novel (interestingly) based on the experience she says she had in 2008. 

Come on – where is the supporting evidence? Where is the comment from a medical source confirming her diagnosis and explaining the effects it had? (I do like the Metro’s last line: “doctors believe that over time she should fully recover” – oh yeah? Doctors you’ve actually spoken to? I don’t think so.)

This smells of a book launch PR campaign – hence the identikit coverage – and no one in the media can be bothered to actually stand the story up. Presumably because whichever PR company that supplied the material is seen as reliable (if anyone actually cares).

This just isn’t good enough. The whole point about “professional” journalism is that it is supposed to fact check and corroborate stories – not just parrot whatever someone says who has something to sell. I mean – that’s what all the rubbishy bloggers are supposed to do.

This is a great piece of PR – but it’s lousy journalism. Have we simply forgotten how to do it?

3 Comments

  • It’s crap, isn’t it? But they don’t care – and neither do the readers. It’s a good story. It will garner a few clicks and maybe even flog a few more newsstand papers.

    Anything for the sales and the eyeballs. ANYTHING.

    Hey, at least they didn’t photoshoot her for the piece and put each pic on its own URL.

  • I notice the photo of Naomi is watermarked Caters News Agency, so maybe it wasn’t a PR stunt after all but came from within the industry. Which makes it worse really.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    August 5th, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Mr Rhodes – welcome back. Yes. Again – no evidence this is not true, but none to show the media is doing its job. And it’s all so very, very cosy – media and PR generating money together…

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