Monday, September 16, 2013

Important if true

Some large U.S. news media appear to have learned nothing from the lies spread by professional journalists after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Five months ago, several allegedly reputable news media reported the name of a person police were seeking.

They got the name wrong, though.

This morning, several large broadcast news organizations reported the name of someone who shot several people at the Navy Yard in Washington.

Then they withdrew the report. The name, apparently, was wrong.

Online, though, is forever. Both names are still widely available, and likely will be indefinitely.

Carpenters have a saying: Measure twice, cut once.

The journalistic equivalent is: Get it first, but first get it right.

In the immediate aftermath of a bombing or a mass shooting, nobody knows what is happening.

Journalists need to gather as much information as they can safely, and report damning information such as names with great care and only after confirmation.

Over time, the organizations that demonstrate responsible reporting should benefit from the resulting public trust.

That probably means being able to charge a premium for their information.

The sloppy ones should ‘fess up and take as their mission statement a traditional newspaper headline for unconfirmed reports, demonstrated a century and a half ago in the New York Times:

“Important if true.”