So last night was quite the night in the world of journalism, and sadly, I was apart of the negative end of things.
As most of you now know, Joe Paterno has passed away at the age of 85. Last night, Onward State, Penn State’s online news organization, posted a story about the Penn State coach passing away after an email was supposedly sent to players about him passing away. The story gained legs as some major news outlets, such as CBS, picked up the story and reported on his death as well.
A rival radio station in town, texted out the story to it’s mobile club members, of which I am a member of (I interned there back in the day) as well, citing the CBS News report. When I saw that, I decided to go check Google and see what I could find. While checking Google on one monitor, Tweetdeck was going crazy on my other monitor with people tweeting about his death. It wasn’t just random friends tweeting it either, it was well respectable journalists in the area that I follow for this very reason – breaking news.
On Google, I found many sources pointing to this happening, but the biggest two were CBS and The Huffington Post. I think most people agree with me that both of these are considered “respectable” news outlets. When I saw these reports, on top of many reports on Twitter and smaller sites, I went ahead and posted the news on our radio station’s Facebook page.
I had a long day, so I went to bed shortly after. When I woke up, I found that everyone had recanted their statements and that Joe Paterno, had in fact, not passed away.
Boy did I feel lousy.
I didn’t really have enough time to read in to it, as I help run the radio/TV broadcast for my church’s early service and I had to get going. However, during that time, I started receiving texts and tweets from people apologizing for posting the story and such. Within an hour, the news started appearing again that Paterno had indeed passed away. Reports this time coming from the same media outlets, as well as the Associated Press. This time, it was for real.
So in apologizing about posting this early, I will let this be a lesson to you all.
I graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, and yet failed to uphold some of the values and ethics that I studied and learned about during my time in school.
1. Always check your sources. While the source was a Penn State publication, there is no better word than the family’s. It’s easy to take a nugget from somewhere and make it spiral out of control everywhere.
2. It’s not always about being first, it’s about being right. The news market has changed so much in today’s world. It’s not about reporting the best news, it’s about reporting the first news. The old saying “if you’re not first, you’re last” seems to apply to a majority of publications these days. I learned better, and I would hope everyone else learned better. As CBS reported in their apology – I hold myself to high journalistic standards, and I fell well short of the expectations I have for myself.
3. It’s ok to admit that you were wrong. We’re human beings, we make mistakes. Posting something that isn’t true, off reports coming from respectable and believable news organizations, doesn’t mean that you’re a failure of a journalist. We get rushed sometimes to post things and say things too quickly before they are confirmed. Admitting your mistakes is taking the high road. Trying to just change it and hope no one noticed is probably the worst thing you can do.
So in that, I admit I was wrong in posting the story, as has everyone else that has done so. It was a mistake, and it’s a lesson that you don’t always win by being first.