A grave lesson to be learned by the media

It’s not breaking news that the journalism environment is changing. It has been for quite some time now. You already know that.

As a journalism student nervous about graduating in a year and a half, the reality of the digital revolution infinitely offering news and information with the click of a mouse is not welcomed with open arms. Just about anyone you can think of – citizens, politicians, activists, owners of private companies – are participating in the transformation of news by reporting themselves. It’s a scary world out there for journalism majors.

Looking on the bright side, however, at the same time many news organizations are gaining more readers and “users” than ever before. But increasing competition and decreasing carefulness for reporting the truth aren’t going to help in successfully saving journalism.

Take, for instance, the tragedy in Tucson. Six people killed and 14 more wounded. A national tragedy, and a big media story (a frenzy for some outlets). Unfortunately, in the shooting’s aftermath, several media outlets (including CNN, NPR, Reuters and BBC News) falsely conveyed part of the story. These media outlets falsely reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) died.

According to NPR’s news blog:

2:15 p.m. ET: Giffords has died, a source in the Pima County Sheriff’s office tells reporter Mark Moran of NPR’s KJZZ in Phoenix. Five others were also killed, the sheriff’s office tells Moran.

Did writers and editors jump to conclusions too quickly and decide to report the news without consulting an additional source? A sheriff confirmed the information with NPR, but I think they should have double checked, if not triple checked, the information before reporting her death. With the current news environment – each media organization vying to be the first source of information – stories are often reported with factual errors. In extreme cases, as seen in the Tucson tragedy, media apologize for information reported that causes emotional harm.

Fortunately, news outlets, such as ABC and the Associated Press (AP), were more cautious than the other organizations. Writers or editors were unsatisfied that the reports of Giffords’ death were accurate. As a result, they did not produce mistaken reports.

Everyone makes mistakes, and the public must understand that people who work in the news business are not perfect human beings. But falsely reporting the death of anyone is unacceptable. And many people wonder why there is public mistrust for the news media.

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One Response to A grave lesson to be learned by the media

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