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When first isn’t always best: The false reports of Joe Paterno’s death

January 22, 2012

In today’s media world, a scoop (a breaking news item) is measured by minutes instead of days.

But what is really more important: Being first or being accurate?

Saturday night a few journalists suffered their worst nightmare. Several news organizations reported that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had died. The family says this is incorrect.

Locally NBC-2 send out an email blast at 9:07 p.m. saying Paterno had died at age 85.

Then 25 minutes later, they sent out what we call a retraction, saying the first report was untrue.

The Associated Press explained the blunder that made on the subject in the following four graphs.

Paterno remained connected to a ventilator Saturday night, individuals close to Paterno’s family told the Washington Post, and his family was debating taking him off the ventilator Sunday.

After reported that Paterno had died, Scott Paterno, Joe’s son, and the family spokesman denied the reports.

“CBS report is wrong – Dad is alive but in serious condition. We continue to ask for prayers and privacy during this time,” Scott Paterno wrote on Twitter. later said that it was relying on information from Onward State, a Penn State blog. Onward State retracted its report, saying “We were confident when we ran with it, and are still trying to figure out where our process failed. We apologize sincerely for error.” Onward State’s managing editor announced his resignation later Saturday.

Student Editor takes the honorable road after Tweets about Joe Paterno’s death

Onward State Editor explains how false report came about

Student Editor gets support over resignation

Here is CBSsportsline’s apology

The lesson that can be taken away from Saturday night’s unnecessary rush to be first is that accuracy is the ultimate goal of all journalist. When we are not accurate we lose credibility. And when a journalist loses his or her credibility they should look for another line of work.

What are your thoughts?

Here is what others are saying:

Here is a terrific timeline of how the false reporting started and how news organizations regrouped

Poynter’s Craig Silverman: False Paterno death reports highlight journalists’ hunger for glory

Washington Post: Social media sets off firestorm of false reports that Joe Paterno died

 CNN notes in its story:
It’s not the first time in the last year that the news media have erroneously reported a public figure’s death.In January 2011, when a gunman in Tucson, Arizona, killed six people and wounded more than 12 others, several major media outlets, including CNN, reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died.UPDATE TO STORY fires editor responsible for posting false report of Paterno’s death

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoffrey Stephens permalink
    January 22, 2012 12:39 pm

    This race for #1 at the cost of many is absolutely absurd. This type of behavior is not just seen in Journalism, but is reflected all over our country & world…and it all links up to money & fame…material bullshit we think is needed or makes us better. Many may not think this, but it is a matter of seeing the numerous layers of what is going on around us daily. Also, since we are all people this effects EVERYBODY no matter what the rank or status of one…it gets to a teenage kid in a gang killing for a gold watch, to a corporate executive who isn’t satisfied with only 4 homes and his private jet. WE ARE ALL THE SAME on different levels. Yes it is ok to want more and a better life…but what happened to doing so proportionally, honestly and respectfully to others??? Is it needed that bad, really? All humans need is food, water & shelter in the end. Every single tragic thing on our planet is connected to this extremity of wanting more, more, more. A bum is pushing hard to have something to eat, a leader of a country more power. This will be the end of us all if not understood and people come together. We can see it in ourselves, we know it’s there even if not admitting it. I personally get one thing I’ve desired for a while, and find my mind immediately craving something else. But I stop, look in the mirror and control my mind by remembering & reflecting on where I came from and seeing the layers. Once doing so, I literally laugh at myself for the willingness I had to order some material crap online just a few minutes before. It’s easy. SLOW DOWN. Question impulses even if others are on you to do it as well and this stuff, even wars would not happen. Take out the market for something and it’s gone. Really don’t like paying so much for gas? Stop driving. Formula: All this race in media to be #1 to report Paterno’s death = people not reflecting and acting on impulse/desire for more, more, more = inaccurate information = a grieving family with enough to deal with between scandal & cancer hurt more = a retraction that cannot correct anything…too late. All for what??? A promotion/raise (used to buy more material) or credit to a source so they can charge more for their ad slots??? ALSO I think of this…people so eager to get out info on such a simple thing as an very old man with cancer’s death (really not uncommon)…but where was all the crazy coverage and desire when Sandusky accounts/issues had been being reported to executives for over 10 YEARS???!!! So, we will go nuts for something simple and really doesn’t mean anything to anyone but family/fans…but when a beast of a story is out there of Sandusky effecting a grand amount of children and families FOR THEIR ENTIRE LIVES mum is the word??!! Oh yeah, that’s right….not covered because people want more, more, more of their material crap and would be at risk to lose it reporting. Go ask bushman we all evolved from if they like Louis Vuitton. Proposed solution, get over material poison and get to know each other???

  2. Marissa Stewart permalink
    January 24, 2012 11:21 pm

    In regards to this whole unavoidable, unfortunate event and our brief discussion about it in class today, I would like to get a few points across. Yes, Paterno may have already been on his last leg – and yes, he did die just the next morning after it was tweeted by the Penn State Blog, but that does not make it justified. The extra trauma and stress the Paterno family had to deal with on account of this unavoidable mistake is inexcusable. If the blog publishers and CBS alike had done their job in checking sources in order to make sure reliable news was put out into the world, then these extra stressors to the family and friends of Joe would have been avoided. Not only should we be concerned for those close to Paterno, but as readers of the news and especially considering we are in a course that is supposed to develop us as consumers of reliable news, we should be concerned and appalled because it deems these sources to be unreliable – how are we going to trust what they publish from now on? With this is mind and the idea of the race for the report, we need to continue to be lenient on how quickly we are going to believe what we read – we need to do research and find out the truth for ourselves.

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