In the race to be first, you end up last

Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno died Sunday, not Saturday. Photo from PennLive.com

This is what happens in the constant rush and pressure to be first among the news media – one outlet jumps the gun and falsely reports something and the pack blindly follows. That’s what happened Saturday when Onward State, the Penn State student newspaper, Tweeted that legendary football coach Joe Paterno had died. Joe Paterno did die over the weekend, but not until Sunday.

The ensuing fallout cost Devon Edwards his job as the managing editor of the Onward State. It also cast an embarrassing spotlight on the journalistic practices of some news media big boys, including CBSSports, the New Jersey Star Ledger, the Huffington Post, all of which re-reported the false information, in some instances without properly attributing it to Onward State. Another black mark on journalism.

As Barney McCoy, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,points out in his blog JournalCetera, it also violates a fundamental Journalism 101 rule – check your facts before you publish.

The moral: It’s good to be first, but you BETTER be right.

About Steve Pepple

Steve Pepple is a working journalist, web designer and photographer based in the Detroit-Ann Arbor area. He works as a assistant metro editor and writing coach at the Detroit Free Press. He previously worked as the print director at the ground-breaking digital media company AnnArbor.com, overseeing the productions of the twice-weekly newspaper. Prior to that he was the metro editor at the Ann Arbor News and previously served as the managing editor of The Herald-Palladium in Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Mich. Steve also operates a web design business at moonlightproductions.net and has a wedding and portrait photography business at stevepepple.com.
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