Chasing the Scoop, Not So Fast
In the rush to "be first" reporters often bypass the whole story whether about sports, news or Taylor Swift
Here's what happens when reporters fall into the trap of breaking news too fast without checking facts.
A news outlet pushes its reporters to be first with breaking news and rushes so the site or station can get clicks from readers or listeners.
The more clicks or ratings received, the better for the owners. Those numbers show advertisers the amount of website traffic, viewers or listeners. This translates into more people possibly spending more money at a business that advertises with the media outlet.
But this method can create half-truths, misleading information and flat-out lies. That mess then leads to unnecessary drama and pure gossip.
Once upon a time before social media and the internet, reporters had a few hours to gather facts on news before a set deadline. That meant checking with officials who could confirm or deny information. Sometimes that meant “no comment” from a source. Editors never allowed hearsay to be published and most reporters knew better.
With the internet came the 24/7 news cycle and social media. Information overload and a Wild West of wrongs.
Let's take an example.
Tis the season for football coaches to make career changes. Unlike years ago, coaches simply don't stay at a school district for decades. They come, they go. This phenomena happens usually right after the season ends.
Let's say a coach tells some players he is leaving. A news outlet reports that the coach, which some parents and players did not like during the season, is leaving based on complete hearsay with no source — named or unnamed — confirming. The news outlet doesn't have a statement from the school. There's a vague reference that the school will release a statement later in the day that never comes.
Later a different reporter asks the school to confirm to if there's a resignation letter. Nope. Curious. Maybe the school didn't see this news coming or something else is swirling other than a coach just wanting a better job. The original news outlet never reports a statement from the school. The coach isn't releasing a statement.
Is the “news” even true? Is the coach really leaving? Or did someone leak it on purpose? With no proof it's hard to know, and the outlet did not say an unnamed source.
But the horse has left the gate in a race to be first with breaking news.
Rumors swirl on social media. Did the coach's losing season make administration and fans angry? Were they going to terminate him and he bolted first? Was the pressurebfrom the season too much? Was it true he didnt get along with certain board members? Should the school have hired another coach instead of the one leaving? Was it because the school didn't have enough fancy facilities? The questions go on and on for more than 24 hours — post after repost. Shares galore. Everyone's got an opinion.
News finally breaks on a different online site. Yes, the coach is leaving for another school, and that town's newspaper announced it. See, told you so, everyone says. More gossip churns.
The truth is set free on social media on a post in a community group. Actually, the coach is leaving for a personal reason to be closer to a medical facility for his child and took a coaching job.
This is why journalists, editors, bloggers, keyboard warriors – really, anyone who types on a public platform – should never publish information until they have as much concrete information as you can possibly have.
Whether a journalist or not, if you publish information, you should take heed of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
The Code includes the following: “Seek Truth and Report It”, “Minimize Harm”, “Act Independently” and “Be Accountable and Transparent.” You can read all of them here.
Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
The entire SPJ Code of Ethics is vital as it covers all media — print, digital, broadcast and whatever medium emerges next.
One point in the Code to remember whether you are a reporter or a citizen transmitting information on Facebook is:
Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
And my favorite journalism lesson really isn't really in the ethics code, but one I learned from a journalism professor who wrote it in big letters on a blackboard.
Never assume. It makes an ASS out of U and Me.