“Great News” that’s neither great nor accurate

It was a great story: a woman swims across the Atlantic Ocean (you know, it’s quite large). News outlets from AP & Google to the BBC to The Huffington Post relayed the story.

AP images - Jennifer Figge

Great news… later determined to be inaccurate.

I especially appreciated Yahoo! News’ retraction story: they admitted their own blame (as well as that of other news organizations) while also presenting a more accurate revision. It seems that swimmer Jennifer Figge cut 500 miles off of the route by beginning from the Cape Verde Islands, rather than the African coast itself. More critically, we’re told that she did not swim the entire remaining route – if seas were deemed too treacherous, she waited on her escort ship. Figge’s spokesperson estimated that she’d swam approximately 250 miles, due to treacherous conditions, rather than the 2100 – 2500 miles across the Atlantic.

Undated photo released by David Higdon, friend of Jennifer Figge, upon her arrival in Trinidad

Yahoo! News explained it this way: “This would be like driving cross country with a friend, and getting out of the car every ten miles to run one mile for the entire trip. That'd be an impressive feat, but nobody would ever confuse it with running across the
United States.”

BBC article supporting image

I myself had felt a ting of suspicious analysis when I first discovered the initial story: a swimmer took less than a month to swim across the Atlantic Ocean?? But, swayed by hope and that she completed her journey in Trinidad, I accepted the story and went on with my life.

Lessons learned? Always retain your intellect, no matter which impressive news brand (nor how many) is reporting the story.

Lastly, linking this particular scenario of inaccurate news to a couple larger questions:

* Does this further advocate for the continued existence of the traditional newspaper model, as professional reporters dig deeply into research in order to present deep truth in their stories?

The traditional newspaper model no longer reflect the needs of today’s developed Western society. News needs to be faster. It needs to be more populist – with stories from trained individuals, as well as perspectives from “boots on the ground.” And of course the revenue generation of the traditional newspaper model is no longer effective.

* And does this further advocate an absolute suspicion of news bloggers (you know, the supposed Wild West gunslingers of news reporters)?

If anything, this inaccurate news enforces the need to use your intellect when absorbing news from any source. Certainly, there are rogue news bloggers, who are not rigorous in their accuracy standards… and there are similar reporters in all aspects of news.

My recommendation: Keep your intellect intact and present. Peruse many news sources. Be discerning.


  1. So well put Brenda! I wish we in the US had access to more international news sources on tv and in print. So helpful to hear stories from multiple sources, cultural perspectives and political bents. And I wish everyone could spend time abroad... diverse life experience = construction of an intellect worthy of keeping intact!? :-)

  2. It is amazing so many people went on with their life without say "Wait a minute....2500 miles? It it remotely possible...swimming?"
    I wish she had really done it but it is impossbile for a human being, maybe for fish.I'm more surprised that she didn't come forward to say it was NOT accurate in the first place.

  3. It also puts to mind the whole 13 year-old father in the UK. This is one piece of news that we all knew about before the press in the States even came around - I learned about it on Twitter, for heaven's sake and now it is the only thing anyone can talk about!

    I did sit next to an older lady who claimed to have swum the British Channel... all she could say about it was "it was cold." Long distance swimming is much more than a sport - it is a mind-game!


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