When Stuff hit an iceberg

Sometimes, the news business is about avoiding icebergs. Yesterday, we slammed right into one.

To the glee of many, but certainly not us, we were hoaxed. It is deeply embarrassing.

People attempt to hoax news organisations on a regular basis. Whether it be writing fictitious news releases, supplying bogus photos or doctoring them (this callous act happens after every natural disaster) or phoning with news tips that are simply lies.

It is our job to sift the truth from these; yesterday we failed.

Mid afternoon a press release, purporting to be from the Russian petroleum giant Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell, landed in our Auckland news bureau's inbox.

It claimed the oil giants were to donate a polar bear to Auckland Zoo.

The release went on to say that: ''Gazprom and Shell are relocating polar bears to ten cities around the world. They are doing this as part of a new business partnership which will see them drill for oil in the Russian Arctic, which is losing sea ice.''

Our news staff are primed to file as fast as possible, but the facts are still what matter more than anything. In this instance some basic tenets of journalism were ignored throughout the process - from writing to sub-editing and the eventual publication.

In a day where we broke and led the news of Labour leader David Shearer's resignation, it was a terrible failure.

Some parts of the press release contained elements of truth - it linked to the real Gazprom homepage and the phone number was real (though a Netherland's one, where Royal Dutch Shell has its international HQ). But that was about it. The email address for Gazprom was fake and a link to a video was dead.

And then there was the story. The easiest way to check was to call Auckland Zoo. No-one did this.

Just as bad is that during the sub-editing process, no-one stopped to ask any critical questions.

We always need to place an immense amount of trust in our journalists and day in, day out, they do a brilliant job, bringing you the best news in the country.

However, we also need to ask questions of them and ourselves. Yesterday we failed to ask those questions and we apologise.