Report Now, Apologize Later

In this day and age, the speed of reporting news is often valued more than the accuracy of the news. Technology has enabled news to travel faster than ever before, and competition from social media puts even more pressure on journalists to get their story out first. This has unfortunately resulted in grave errors.

NPR was the first to report the 2011 shooting of Arizona congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, but erroneously announced that she had been killed. They compounded this error confirming her death with an email to NPR subscribers, a tweet, and a blog (Shepard, 2011). Because of NPR’s reputation, other news outlets followed, repeating the false death report. Dick Meyer (2011), executive editor of NPR News, later apologized and noted, “in a situation so chaotic and changing so swiftly, we should have been more cautious” (para. 3). This was a lesson for all media outlets, reminding them of their responsibility described in the SPJ Code of Ethics (2014), which says that information must be verified and warns “neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy” (p. 1).

Lessons were quickly forgotten. Two years later, the fast-breaking Boston bombing story challenged journalists once again, with unacceptable results. The New York Post featured two innocent young men and claimed that Federal investigators were trying to identify them (Willis, 2014). CNN, the Associated Press, and The Boston Globe mistakenly reported that an arrest was made, when nobody had been taken into custody. Publicized inaccuracies prompted the FBI’s statement to the media “to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting” (Carter, 2013).

Without the integrity of ethical standards, journalism will fail to inform and empower the public and be reduced to mere entertainment. For the news media to provide accurate information, we must lower our expectations for speed and raise our standards for quality.

References

Carter, B. (2013, April 17). The F.B.I. criticizes the news media after several mistaken reports of an arrest. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=1

Meyer, D. (2011, January 9). Editor’s note: On NPR’s Giffords coverage. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2011/01/09/132785205/editors-note-on-nprs-giffords-coverage

Shepard, A. (2011, January 11). NPR’s Giffords mistake: Re-learning the lesson of checking sources. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/ombudsman/2011/01/11/132812196/nprs-giffords-mistake-re-learning-the-lesson-of-checking-sources

SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014) [Poster]. Indianapolis, IN: Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics-poster.pdf

Willis, O. (2014, October 1). [Blog]. NY Post settles lawsuit over infamous Boston bombing “Bag Men” cover. Retrieved from http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/10/01/ny-post-settles-lawsuit-over-infamous-boston-bo/200974

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