Joe Paterno Death Reports Show Flaws in “Journalism”

Update: Now the AP is reporting (on Twitter, no less) that Paterno is dead. The Poynter Institute, whose mission it is to make sure “communities have access to excellent journalism,” has p...
Joe Paterno Death Reports Show Flaws in “Journalism”
Written by Chris Crum
  • Update: Now the AP is reporting (on Twitter, no less) that Paterno is dead.

    The Poynter Institute, whose mission it is to make sure “communities have access to excellent journalism,” has posted an interesting series of articles pointing out journalism’s failures with regards to former Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno.

    Paterno is reportedly in serious condition in a hospital in State College, PA, but is still alive. However, Penn State student news site Onward State reported that Paterno died last night. Once that initial report came out, various other news organizations jumped on the story and started falsely reporting his death too.

    While it’s been deleted now, CBS News tweeted that he had died, apparently based on the Onward State report, but without attribution. Poynter shows the embed.

    In another of the Poynter articles, Craig Silverman points out how “journalists’ hunger for glory” can get them in trouble. “The tension between speed and accuracy is always highlighted in these cases,” he writes.

    “Journalists need to do a better job calculating the risk of being first, rather than focusing on the benefit,” Silverman writes. “How many people would have recalled — or cared — that Onward State broke the news? Aside from some journalists, I’d wager very few people. This kind of breaking news report spreads quickly, and whatever credit that may have gone to Onward State in the early minutes would have disappeared once the information was confirmed and widespread.”

    The speed vs. accuracy issue has become more of a challenge for reporters thanks to the realtime nature of today’s web. This seems to be brought to light when false death reports emerge, then are proven wrong. Remember when this happened with Jon Bon Jovi recently?

    It does make you wonder how many other falsities are being taken as truths, with stories that don’t demand as much attention as the death of a celebrity.

    Onward State’s managing editor has resigned. He posted the following apology:

    Earlier this evening, Onward State reported that Joe Paterno had passed away; however, the mountain of evidence stacked opposite that report became too much to ignore. At this time, I would like to issue an official retraction of our earlier tweets.

    I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State might be cited by the national media. Today, I sincerely wish it never had been. To all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for having mislead you. To the Penn State community and to the Paterno family, most of all, I could not be more sorry for the emotional anguish I am sure we at Onward State caused. There are no excuses for what we did. We all make mistakes, but it’s impossible to brush off one of this magnitude. Right now, we deserve all of the criticism headed our way.

    In this day and age, getting it first often conflicts with getting it right, but our intention was never to fall into that chasm. All I can do now is promise that in the future, we will exercise caution, restraint, and humility.

    I can only hope and pray that the outstanding work our writers and photographers do on a day-to-day basis is not overshadowed by the events of tonight. I understand that our reputation is in serious question, but I hope you will continue to stand by us as we do everything in our power to make amends.

    To begin that process, I will be stepping down from my post as Managing Editor, effective immediately. I take full responsibility for the events that transpired tonight, and for the black mark upon the organization that I have caused.

    I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your understanding. I am so very, very, sorry, and we at Onward State continue to pray for Coach Paterno.


    Devon Edwards

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