Did media move too quickly in Newtown reports?
I found the story in Sunday’s Gazette on the media’s struggles to report accurately from Newtown, Conn., fascinating. The story told of the many missteps television and other reporters made in trying to get word out first as the grim news emerged.
I, too, hesitated. I first heard a co-worker in The Gazette newsroom say something about a massacre being reported on Twitter just before my lunch break Friday. I quickly went to Twitter and saw the reports, including that possibly 27 people were dead.
I could have quickly retweeted that to those who follow me and hadn’t heard the news. But I waited. I checked our Associated Press wire service, and a small initial story vaguely suggested several victims of a shooting at a school in Newtown. That’s a big difference from 27 dead.
Shortly thereafter, Channel 3 in Madison tweeted an Associated Press report that the killer was thought to be a 20-year-old man with ties to the school. I retweeted that. Then I went home, where my wife and I watched the news on TV. One network reporter suggested the killer was actually 24. I thought, well, I just unwittingly retweeted misinformation. Later, we learned, of course, that the report of a 24-year-old shooter was false; the killer really was 20 but had a 24-year-old brother who apparently had no knowledge of his younger sibling’s plans.
Even initial reports that the killer's "ties" to the school involved his mother working as a teacher or substitute teacher were apparently false, though he apparently attended the school as a child.
In the race for ratings, every TV network is stumbling all over itself trying to, yes, get it right but also get it first. Often, they speculate. We in the newspaper industry try to quickly post breaking news on our website, but the 24-hour cycle of our print product usually affords us time for better accuracy. Do you think, in this day of instant social media, it’s great to get the news ASAP, even if some of it might be misinformation that must be corrected later? Or does that do the public--including victims and suspects--a disservice? Should the media slow down and make sure it gets it right the first time?