With the help of mainstream media, the two teens turned a harmless simulated trading exercise into a very real story about a $72 million fortune earned by investing in the stock market.

If your dog died, your rent check bounced and you failed your final exams, you’d still be having a better week than Damir Tulemaganbetov and Mohammed Islam of New York City’s Stuyvesant High School.

With the help of mainstream media, the two teens turned a harmless simulated trading exercise into a very real story about a $72 million fortune earned by investing in the stock market.

The root of the rumor lies in Tulemaganbetov and Islam’s involvement with Stuy High’s Investing Club, where Islam reportedly “made” more than $72 million on simulated trades. With help from a friend at New York Magazine, the two teens connected with reporter Jessica Pressler, who apparently doesn’t own a calculator. The story ran Monday morning, inciting skepticism from NYM commenters almost immediately.

Tulemaganbetov and Islam quickly realized the magnitude of their fib, issuing a confession and apology to the New York Observer’s Ken Kurson on Tuesday evening.

Kurson stated the obvious: “Even if this working-class kid had somehow started with $100,000 as a high school freshman on day one at Stuy High, he’d have needed to average a compounded annualized return of something like 796 percent over the three years since.” We’re talking very high-level math, here.

So, where does the fault lie? We obviously need to blame the students for deciding to take a fictitious story public. But let’s not forget to take a harder look at the news outlet that was ready and waiting to launch these 18-year-old kids to fame, regardless of the validity of their story.

This scandal is just one of many currently raising questions about the legitimacy of journalism in a new age of shock factor, social media attention, ad dollars and good old fashioned competition that all leave news outlets desperately vying for the spotlight. Here’s hoping that more journalists and editors don’t turn to throwing simple practices, like fact checking and basic research, out the window in favor of an eye-catching headline.

Catch the real story over at the New York Observer.

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Posted 12.17.2014 - 11:59 am EDT