A couple of quick thoughts on the Boston bombings, in case you missed it. While the nation continues to come to grips with this disgusting and pointless act of terrorism, the media is in lock down mode in Bean-town, with continuing coverage of the aftermath and the search for the suspect or suspects. This week, CNN’s John King reported “live” that a suspect in this case had been arrested and CNN was the first to report it. Fox News, not wanting to play catch up to its main cable rival, quickly followed with the same report.
The problem-no arrest has been made as of the time of this blog, and authorities quickly pointed out that fact, correcting the error in reporting. CNN and Fox retracted their reports, but the PR damage had already been done. We are still waiting to see if anyone will lose their job over this embarrassment.
In this digital and social “news now” mode, the media chase has never been more intense to be “the first” to report “breaking news”. Why? Besides precious ratings (mere scraps these days, btw), every organization wants to be able to produce a promotional spot declaring their victory and proving their supremacy amongst all news rivals. It’s the same game which has always been played. However, Journalism 101 class will teach you to never, ever air a report or provide information without checking your sources first. When I left the business five years ago, our stations policy at the time was that a reporter needed three independent sources who could verify the information. No verification, no story. Period.
Maybe today’s social media driven news moves too fast for that “old school” policy? But in a business where credibility correlates to ratings, where news organizations are struggling to remain relevant (especially with younger viewers), perhaps this is a policy worth digging out of the trash can.