Obsessions: March 1st, 2010

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Does everyone know the blog Photoshop Disasters? It’s the site that documents badly-made Photoshop work created in the service of commerce. Earlier today, I ran across this entry, proclaiming “New Moon: The Stolen Six Pack.” Then New York magazine took the bait, reporting this as real, under the headline “Taylor Lautner’s Twilight Body was Photoshopped!” They’re talking about this poster.

But the really interesting thing about this piece is that it’s not, in fact, part of the Twilight marketing campaign at all—it’s amateur art someone made for their own, erm, enjoyment, and then added to the public pool to profess their undying love to either Taylor, his abs, Twilight, or some combination of all three. The original art is from terra.com’s “The Boy” feature. His name’s Edilson Nascimento; here’s a huge pile of imagery of him at Made in Brazil.

It’s remarkable that the media is now so ill-informed in some circles that facts don’t ever get checked, sources are never verified except by the public readership (as you’ll see in the comments sections at both sites), and in the long run, the “public truth” to this story is that Twilight and Taylor Lautner are somehow “fakes”. The original fan art is months old, and in fact was posted to Socialite Life and Made in Brazil in May of last year.

I found all this out with one simple Google search and an email in the space of about twenty minutes. Seriously, people, do the job you were hired to do.

In the context of a larger branding conversation: This means that anyone’s brand, even your own, could be under a constant threat of attack. I’d love to know what’s happening in New York magazine’s PR department, or in the Twilight camp, to handle this micro-crisis (assuming it is one). One of these day, this sort of thing could easily blow up in someone’s face.

So, let’s talk about the now-frightening confluence of what I call second-tier mainstream media (magazines like New York, Entertainment Weekly, media concerned mainly with fluff pieces that don’t really impact the turning of the world), blogs as a semi-legitimate news reporters to the media at large, and accountability.

Who’s more at fault for this scenario? Is it the reporter at New York who didn’t do their due diligence to make sure this is real? Is it the original poster at Photoshop Disasters, who either didn’t check to make sure this is an actual branded message, or merely wanted to see their contribution on PSD go live? Is it Photoshop Disasters’ fault for possibly becoming such a machine of media debunking that they feel required to post a certain amount of messages, regardless of their legitimacy? (All hypothetical: I don’t pretend to know what they’re thinking over there.)

It’s very interesting to me to see these sloppy channels of sudden and immediate gossip start to turn into very real threats to the messages designers and writers work to create. I’m not sure if this means we should work harder to declare the legitimacy of our messages, or if this is merely another bit of noise readers will need to learn to decode as tools available to amateurs become much more sophisticated. Whatever the ramifications or impact to the Twilight franchise’s bottom line, if any, I’m really enjoying being able to ask these questions as they come up in real time.

Update, added 3/1/10 12:11PM CST: I just found some great related material. The New York Times has an interesting article summarizing this report at the CJR, discussing sloppy online journalistic practices.