August 6, 2021

Behind Premature Reports of Joe Paterno’s Death

The false reports required a public reaction from Mr. Paterno’s family and were embarrassing for the news organizations involved, including CBS Sports, The Huffington Post and an arm of called

Widely shared (and then even more widely denounced) on Twitter and Facebook, the situation called to mind the false claims that Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been killed in a mass shooting in Tucson one year ago. She had been gravely wounded, but not killed.

The response was similar, too. There were apologies by the news organizations and a rush of attention paid to the sometimes precarious race to be among the first to report news.

The specific problems on Saturday night stemmed from flaws in sourcing. Rumors swirled earlier in the day about Mr. Paterno’s health, prompting the family to confirm that his condition was serious. The editors of an independent student publication at Pennsylvania State University, Onward State, were aware of those rumors when two writers independently heard about an e-mail that had ostensibly been sent to Penn State athletes about Mr. Paterno’s death, the publication said in an analysis on Sunday. The e-mail was a hoax, but the editors did not know that. Neither writer had seen it, and one of the two “had not been honest in his information,” according to the analysis.

But a Twitter message was sent and an article was written by Onward State on Saturday evening saying that the coach had died, leading national news organizations like to follow suit. Links to the reports were shared online by hundreds of journalists, athletes and others; most linked to CBS.

Within an hour, a spokesman for the Paterno family denied the reports — and soon thereafter two of Mr. Paterno’s sons even used Twitter to deny them personally.

The managing editor of Onward State, Devon Edwards, later said in an e-mail to his boss that “sadness turned to shock and panic as I realized that I had made the mistake of a lifetime.”

CBS said in a statement that it had failed “to verify the original report.” The Huffington Post said it had failed to attribute its article to a source.

Mr. Edwards swiftly resigned, though the publication said Sunday that he would remain a staff member.

“The lesson for everyone should be that accuracy still matters,” said Lou Ferrara, the managing editor for sports, entertainment and multimedia for The Associated Press. The news agency published a Twitter message debunking the death reports and, later in the night, explained what had happened in news reports because the bogus online information had wider implications for media outlets. Other news organizations did the same, hoping to correct the misinformation proliferating online.

The existence of social media tools do not need to force news organizations to compromise their standards, he said. “If anything, this is when news organizations need them most,” he said.

He added in an e-mail on Sunday: “It reminds me of the early days of the Net, when people thought the digital revolution would result in a lowering of journalistic standards. Such lowering only happens if we allow it to.”

Article source:

Speak Your Mind