Ethics in the 24-hour news cycle

posted by Lindsay Susla

I think having access to news at any time of the day can be great.  We can stay up-to-date with the issues we find important and can check the news when it’s most convenient, giving the public a greater opportunity to be stay informed.

However, the 24-hour news cycle can also be dangerous.  The pressure to fill all hours of the day with material can be daunting, and can lead to inaccuracies and mistakes in reporting.  Fact checking can become a lower priority when networks are racing to be the first to break a story.  I have watched the news many times when footage is being shown on a loop, but the station doesn’t necessarily know the significance of what they are showing yet.  Being the first to report on an event does not mean that the best reporting is being done.

photo from, uploaded by ed100

A recent example of how haste in reporting can lead to mistakes occurred when Fox News accidentally aired a suicide because they were broadcasting a police chase.  There was apparently not enough of a delay, or no delay at all, built in to the live footage.

An article from the Amarillo Globe-News explains that exciting footage like police chases can “often provide a short-term ratings boost as viewers tune in to see how it ends.”  However, it seems to me like using these potentially dangerous situations to boost ratings and viewer numbers is unethical.  At the same time, I understand the pressure that journalists are under to keep their broadcasts exciting to the viewer who is constantly inundated with information and could always turn to another source.

Where do you weigh in on this issue?  Is showing this kind of unpredictable footage permissible?


4 responses to “Ethics in the 24-hour news cycle

  1. I think the rush to fill the time has taken a lot of the ability to look at deeply at subjects. There is always a rush to be the first. If you have to rush to be the first, sometimes there’s a chance you are the first on to be wrong.

    I have always wondered what would happen if one of those police chases televised a fatality. It seems like a breach of ethics to even indulge such things, but most news agencies do it anyway.

    I wish it wasn’t permissible, but I don’t think it’s going to change. There is too much pressure to feed the news monster. If you don’t do it, your competitors will.

  2. This topic often comes up in my public relations classes. I have always had a stance that accurate reporting is much better than speedy reporting. I would rather have the correct story with as much detail as possible, than to have an incorrect story right away. This causes the issue of confusing the viewers and having to change what they are thinking by having to correct the information they received earlier.

    I think the news organizations often think of the breaking news story that will get them the ratings, rather than to provide the accurate in depth story a little bit later. The incident you referred to, of the the news organization reporting a suicide as a homicide is tragic and a big mistake. If I heard that story on the news, and then heard the correct story, I would make sure to not receive my information from that station again. Definitely accuracy over immediacy for me.

  3. Another egregious example was in June, when two TV networks, CNN and Fox, incorrectly reported the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Obama’s health-care reform act. They reported that the court struck down the individual mandate, the crux of the new law, when, in fact, the court had upheld it.

    CNN SUPCO error

    I think the media are arrogant to think that readers/viewers care who gets a story first. Most readers/viewer don’t care if they learn of a story at 10 a.m., 10:01, 10:10 or even that afternoon. “Be first; but first, be accurate.”

  4. Pingback: 24 Hour New Cycle and the Election « The Sexy Politico's Blog

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