The world is an ever evolving place that moves faster and faster. People want everything now, even their news. But putting speed over accuracy in the news is costing the public dearly.
The art of gathering news is nothing new. The Romans carved bulletins in metal or stone and posted them for the masses to read. Ben Franklin published the Pennsylvania Chronicle writing in opposition to the British monarchy. In these slower times news traveled at a snail’s pace to the people of the countryside.
Then electricity was invented. Telegraph offices sprang up across the world. Telephones and television came along to entertain and inform us. And now we have the internet coming into our computers and smart phones with instant access to the world. News organizations strive to get us the news fast and first. Instead of “fast and first” shouldn’t the news be accurate?
The 1948 US presidential election results are a famous example of being fast instead of accurate. At print deadline time for the Chicago Tribune, election results were not in for the entire country. Working with poll data and best guess estimates the Tribune went to press with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” A run of 150,000 copies were printed with the wrong winner. The photo atop of this article shows a jubilant Harry Truman holding a copy of the paper that said he lost the election.
In one month alone in 2012 ABC News dropped the accuracy ball several times. When director Tony Scott who directed such classics as Top Gun and Days of Thunder committed suicide by jumping off of a bridge, ABC reported that Mr. Scott had inoperable brain cancer. The statement was retracted after Scott’s family disputed the report. While reporting the Aurora Colorado theatre massacre ABC’s Brian Ross found a person linked to the Tea Party with the same name as the shooter. The wrong Jim Holmes’ face and info was quickly posted all over the internet.
ABC’s staff are not the only culprits here. FOX and CNN erroneously reported the Supreme Court’s decision on healthcare. As the world waited for the recent royal birth CNN had the headline “Duchess Katherine gives birth to a son” with an unrelated ticker posted underneath “Child pronounced dead at the scene.”
A combination of changes in economy and technology can take part of the blame in the trend of speed over accuracy in the news. Media outlets have cut back staff and reporters are expected to do more with less. Computers have great tools like spell check. But spell check does not recognize all words and if no one proof reads carefully then gaffes occur. The Daily Post in Liverpool wrote about the Welsh National Opera (WNO). Spell check did not know WNO, and the abbreviation was replaced with winos and nobody caught the mistake. I am fairly sure the WNO was not amused.
Some are stepping up to address this problem as it is getting more widespread. CBS news anchor Scott Pelley spoke of this in a speech at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. As the video below shows, Pelley talked about his own mistakes as well as his fellow journalists. Mr. Pelley states, “During our coverage of Newtown, I sat on my set and I reported that Nancy Lanza was a teacher at the school. And that her son had attacked her classroom. It’s a hell of a story, but it was dead wrong. Now I was the managing editor, I made the decision to go ahead with that and I did, and that’s what I said, and I was absolutely wrong. So let me just take the first arrow here.” He spoke of the amounts of information available today, both good and bad. (Lanza’s attacks were random.)
Journalists are people just like everyone else. They have families and hobbies and friends just like we all do. They also make mistakes like the rest of us. The difference is that in the news business mistakes need to be few and far between. By not taking the time needed to get the story right the first time we end up with speed over accuracy in the news. The public loses trust in the media and in the end all of journalism loses credibility.
Written by Kevin Reid