Do horses eat loose fern? A statement on reporting standards

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horse grazing

This week, I was subbing a story about horses that had been rescued from dire circumstances. If not for the language educated among us, the situation could have given rise to an inadvertent mondegreen (when a phrase is repeated incorrectly over time and eventually replaces the original phrase).

The reporter had stated that the poor horses were in need of deworming and “loose fern”. As is often the case at this particular newspaper, and most likely many others, the story was a cut and paste from another website, whose sub-editor was arguably on a lunch/smoke break at the time the post was published.

This website had made the claim that the horses needed “loose fern”.

Although unfamiliar with the dietary requirements of horses, particularly when they are ill, I still realised the loose fern was quite a long way from the commonly eaten hay, but not too long to be completely unfeasible.

I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with loose fern, cut and paste making a weak justification for my lenience, I know.

Later, I returned to the website with the original story – original only in that it was the first story I found with the dietary need for loose fern – how many had gone before that particular reporter copied that particular version – and found in the comment section that someone was eager to point out that horses eat lucerne (alfalfa)?

Is this a statement on the poor state of reporting in South Africa, or is it a global indictment? Does fast news become fake news by dint of inaccuracies, total ignorance and restrained budgets reflecting a dearth of skills?

Your comments welcome.

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