In a recent GEICO commercial they poke fun at Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, where rather than riding horseback through the night shouting “The British are coming, the British are coming”, he picked up a cell phone and alerted people that way. In the 300 years since his famous ride, news that once took days or weeks to reach its target audience, can now be transferred in a matter of seconds. There is one glaring problem with that situation however, is the information correct and true?
With Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, anyone can get online and post information whether it is true or not. There are no editors or fact checkers for most of what is posted on the internet and when information comes out that is wrong, many times no one is held accountable. An instance of this occurred just last year regarding the passing of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.
Onward State, an independent student-run Penn State blog, reported via Twitter that Joe Paterno had died on the night of Saturday, January 21, 2012. CBS Sports picked up the story and posted on their Twitter page that Paterno had also died, however this information was later deemed to be false. He did die later the next day but imagine being the Paterno family, and seeing the internet spread with rumors that your loved one had died when he was still in fact alive. This is the danger of how fast news can spread on the internet and the lack of fact checking before information is published.
Onward State is a blog that unless you attend Penn State, you’ve probably never heard of. CBS Sports is a National reputable news source, so that is why this story is so shocking. How did CBS Sports relay this information to the nation without checking and double checking their sources. They wanted to be the first big news organization to report the story however rather than being the source to break the news; they took a lot of heat for false reporting.
Breaking news first is a risk but is it really worth the reward? Can you recall which news source broke the Jerry Sandusky story? What about the recent passing of broadcasting legend Pat Summerall? How about the Duke Men’s Lacrosse rape allegations? Many times no one remembers who broke the story, but if you broadcast information that is false, everyone will remember that.
A great Twitter quote from the Editor-in-chief at Digital First Media really sums up this issue of how fast news can break without due diligence. He states, “If you’re right and first, no one remembers. If you’re first and wrong, everyone remembers.”
- Retraction watch: Joe Paterno (vielmetti.typepad.com)
- Davis Shaver: how @OnwardState came to inaccurately report that Joe Paterno had died (nextlevelofnews.com)
- False Paterno death – Craig Silverman: Dangers of journalists chasing glory (nextlevelofnews.com)