The best fake news money can buy

If you like 'news' stories that happen to include sexy pictures, then you'll love the future of Web reportage

It was a story tailor made for page views during a week with little actual news to report. According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, Advertising Age had just named its "sexiest ads of 2011." Topping the list: a series of slinky black and white images of pop diva Rihanna wearing Armani lingerie.

The Daily Mail ran copious quotes from Ad Age's editors, along with cheesecake photos of Rihanna and the runners-up in the list -- Victoria's Secrets model Miranda Kerr and actress Kate Moss -- happily displaying the gifts God gave 'em.

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You can imagine what happened next. The story was picked up by Australia's Courier Mail, the International Business Times, the Times of India, and the Hindustan Times, as well as dozens of U.S. and International fashion news sites. The Huffington Post jumped all over it and ran a 10-page slideshow of hot female models wearing next to nothing in the service of commerce. A Google search turns up thousands of related hits on assorted blogs and smaller news sites.

There was just one problem: The story wasn't true. Ad Age didn't name the sexiest ads of the year. As Ad Age Media Reporter Nat Ives notes, "After seeing the attention the sexiest-ad survey got, we kind of wish we'd done one. We heard about it first from the Daily Mail."

So where did this story come from?

Daily Mail blogger Deborah Arthurs says she was forwarded a press release by her editor about the story, which was penned by an obscure U.K. agency called TNI Press Ltd. Don't bother searching for the company's website; it doesn't have one.

Arthurs ran the press release without checking to see if Ad Age did that survey, let alone if the quotes matched the (nonexistent) story. This is hardly the first time in the annals of journalism that a reporter has simply rewritten a press release. This practice predates movable type. Still, in the age of Google, it's not exactly rocket science to do a little checking first.

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