Much has been written about how we can verify sources and information in a social media age.
Not so much about how journalists — like most human creatures — are a rather lazy group and say, for instance, might skip a step or three in the process of story assignment to story publication.
Which is what Ryan Holiday took advantage of as he became an expert on pretty much all things reporters happened to need an expert on when reporting their stories.
Using Help A Reporter Out, an online network that connects reporters with expert sources, Holiday responded to pretty much anyone seeking a comment or opinion about pretty much any topic. He even had an assistant help get through his inbox deluge.
Holiday, 25 years old and based in New Orleans, mostly wanted to see if it could be done. He had been getting blogs to write what he wanted for years, and had developed a sense of how stories were put together in the internet age. He thought he could push the envelope a bit further…
…He used Help a Reporter Out (HARO), a free service that puts sources in touch with reporters. Basically, a reporter sends a query, and a slew of people wanting to comment on the story email back. He decided to respond to each and every query he got, whether or not he knew anything about the topic. He didn’t even do it himself — he enlisted an assistant to use his name in order to field as many requests as humanly possible.
He expected it to take a few months of meticulous navigation, but he found himself with more requests than he could handle in a matter of weeks. On Reuters, he became the poster child for “Generation Yikes.” On ABC News, he was one of a new breed of long-suffering insomniacs. At CBS, he made up an embarrassing office story, at MSNBC he pretended someone sneezed on him while working at Burger King. At Manitouboats.com, he offered helpful tips for winterizing your boat. The capstone came in the form of a New York Times piece on vinyl records — naturally, Holiday doesn’t collect vinyl records.
During the course of Holiday’s “experiment” he says he was fact-checked once, by email, to confirm whether he really was Ryan Holiday.
As Peter Shankman, founder of Help a Reporter Out, tells Forbes, HARO is just a tool. “As a journalist, it’s always been your job to do your research and check the source, whether you find that source on the street, on Craigslist or on HARO,” he says. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not doing your job however you find the source.”