Lessons to Learn from Te’o Story Errors

The Manti Te’o story all over the media today points out some lapses that journalists didn’t see. Many recounted the story, and perhaps should have done more fact-checking.

Brian Moritz,  in his Sports Media Guy blog,  aptly points out some of the errors of sports journalists.  Here’s just one section from his blog:

  • “Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.”

To follow up on Brian’s points, here are some tips:

  • If your news organization doesn’t subscribe to a database such as Nexis to get Social Security (SSA) records, you’ll find it hard to access.  The Department of Commerce sells the SSA Death Master File but it’s a whopping $1000. The two websites who say they offer the database weren’t satisfactory in a test I ran today. Geneology.com‘s free service didn’t locate records for my relatives who died in 1983, 2011 or last month. Ancestry.com seemed to find the 1983 death record but wanted $13 for a 6-month subscription.  However, for a one-time check you can get a free 14-day trial.
  • Funeral homes now regularly put obits on line, and in my experience leave them up about a year. I’ve traced friends and family members this way through the local newspaper or by searching for funeral homes in the area and then checking each one for its obituary list.
  • Universities generally provide basic information about students including, name, age and rank.
  • Student newspapers are readily accessible via Newslink
  • Police, a coroner or medical examiner also may confirm deaths.
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