accuracy speed bulls eye

Speed is important, but it is most important to hit the bulls eye on accuracy.

Thanks to social media, information travels faster than ever. I know this, because it’s my job to chase down that information nearly every day. While social media is another great way to garner news tips from the public and reputable sources, like any other piece of information, it needs to be verified.

Why is this? Sometimes the tips turn out to be correct, sometimes they do not. A member of the public may post on our Facebook page that police are responding in their neighborhood, but it may just be a routine traffic stop. Unofficial sources with the fire department may tweet us about a structure fire, but we need to verify that information with dispatch and the public information officer.

Like Justin said in lecture, social media doesn’t take away the need for journalist to fact-check, it heightens it. How often have we seen a celebrity death hoax make the rounds on Twitter only to have the person be alive and well (like Jon Bon Jovi in 2011)? People can make things up, doctor photos and rewrite articles all the time, which is why it is more important to be right than be first.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s GREAT to be the first with a breaking news story. But if the story turns out to be wrong, your news organization has lost the trust of your readers/viewers. Justin asked in lecture if the public is more understanding of news organizations putting incorrect information out due to the fast speed with which it moves. I would have to say no, not really, at least in my experience. People still expect accurate information with proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Otherwise, they’re going to go somewhere else.

But what happens if you did get verified information from police and that information later turns out to be wrong, like when several media organizations identified the wrong Lanza brother as the Sandy Hook shooting suspect in December 2012? When something like this happens, you have to make it right as soon as possible. Huffington Post reported that BuzzFeed took down their article identifying the wrong person. Every decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, but ethically, I think this is OK because they probably didn’t want other people who came across their initial article to make the same mistake.

At news organizations I’ve worked at, we would try to avoid deleting a story, as this creates a dead link if someone tries to view the story later. If the correction was relatively minor, we would make it and save the story. If the correction was major, we would put a text correction in the story. Only in extreme circumstances would we delete a story, and this decision had to be blessed by a manager.

Bottom line: It is a journalist’s job to do everything we can to make sure we’re right AND first, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of losing our viewers’ trust.