Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thirst to be first can be costly

The report of Joe Paterno's death on Saturday evening is a painful lesson in journalism. Or, more appropriate, Twitter.

Twitter is an effective, useful tool for gathering and delivering information and opinion. It can also be an avenue for mistakes because it seems the race to be first can sometimes outweigh being right.

If you missed it, here's what happened on Twitter concerning Paterno, who, as I write this at 10 p.m. on Saturday, is in serious condition in a hospital while battling cancer:

- CBS sports was the first major news organization to report Paterno had died.

- Twitter posts with tributes and farewells were abundant immediately after. CNN followed up CBS' report of Paterno's death.

- Moments later, the Paterno family responded by saying Joe Paterno was not dead and earlier reports were "Absolutely not true."

Saturday night reminded me of the night when Bob Feller died. As sports editor of The News-Herald, my No. 1 priority that night before a tweet was posted or a headline was written on-line was confirming the story of Feller's death was 100 percent accurate.

On a much smaller scale, I made a major mistake a few years ago concerning an area man who coached high school baseball. It had nothing to do with me searching for information. I received a call about a fund raiser for the person, and in the process, the wrong information was reported.

It was an honest mistake by myself, but I felt horrible about it and made it a point to talk to the person. It was a phone call I dreaded.

Back to the night of Feller's death. Until we at The News-Herald received confirmation from Feller's family or the Indians, we were not going to report it.

It was a lesson learned.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo


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