Journalist Walter Lippmann remarked almost a century ago that democracy will fail “if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news.”
However, today’s news reporting is increasingly sacrificing accuracy for speed.
The majority of large newspapers and other sources of news have Facebook and Twitter accounts, breaking news texts, and numerous additional channels that have added a building sense of urgency to journalism.
The New York Times’ main Twitter feed has more than 280,000 followers, the Wall Street Journal has more than 19,000, and the Chicago Tribune has more than 5,200. As the mass news media go digital, they are progressively becoming more instantaneous and concerned with scooping every other news outlet.
With the power of instant retractions and updates, as opposed to the expensive print medium, many online news sources no longer feel a responsibility to getting all the facts correct before posting.
News sources such as Cable News Network and Fox News are now less concerned with the accuracy of their updates and more concerned with beating out the competition.
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, highlighted some of the problems with today’s urgent 24-hour news stations by bashing on CNN’s misinformed and bumbling reporting on the recent Washington Navy Yard mass shooting.
Stewart said during his television program that “for every all too familiar American tragedy, you can be sure the news will exacerbate it with yet another Force Five Wrongnado.”
Keeping up with the times and going digital is fine, but not if the cost is accurate journalism.
Inaccurate news can travel fast on social media. A prime example of this is the premature reports of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s death on Oct. 17.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that a St. Petersburg blogger and political consultant, Peter Schorsch, posted about Young’s death on Twitter at 1:34 p.m. on Oct. 17. Minutes later, NBC’s Luke Russert tweeted the same news. News outlets were scrambling to break this news to their readers.
Even members of Congress sent out preliminary tweets of condolence: Rep. Bill Long from Florida posted “Very saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Bill Young of Florida—the perfect Gentleman—our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,” which was deleted later.
However, 30 minutes after Schorsch’s post, Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam C. Smith confirmed that Young was alive. It wasn’t until Friday evening that Young actually died.
Although this error was neither the first nor the last mistake to hinder the credibility of reporters, it was certainly a noteworthy one.
As a reporter, I understand the breaking news-type urgency that newspapers face. Despite this, it is my belief that quality and accuracy should never be sacrificed for the sake of being first.
Helen Lee / Photo editor
Helen Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org