Is breaking news breaking journalism?

Posted by Rachel Ward

The coverage of the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing created a

Photo from Brett Jordan

Photo from Brett Jordan

nightmare for journalists. CNN reported that a “dark-skinned male” had been arrested, when no such arrest had been made. Fox also reported that an arrest had been made. The FBI had to set the two outlets straight — publicly. While it is the network’s responsibility to fact check, these kind of mishaps are embarrassing for ALL  journalists and they discredit the entire profession.

“Breaking news, haven’t you heard, is broken,” writes Jeff Jarvis, the blogger behind Buzz Machine. Since we can’t change the past, or control how specific networks portray us, Jarvis thinks it’s time we learn from their mistakes.

Here are his tips:

  1. Today’s technology allows a constant flow of information that isn’t fact-checked etc. Which can be bad (holler New York Post), or can add  knowledge, like witness’s photos.
  2. Telling the world what you don’t know is just as important as telling it what you do. This allows the public to tell us what they know.
  3. Police scanners are people on microphones. Information from scanners is not fact.
  4. Do not take photos of random men with backpacks and put the photo next to text that implies they were part of the bombing (once again, New York Post).
  5. Always say how you know what you know. If you are going to report from police scanners you have to say you are doing so and explain that what you obtained is not for sure.

Read more of Jarvis’ tips here.

What do you think is more important accuracy or speedy turn around?  Does it depend on the situation? If so, which situations require which method?


6 responses to “Is breaking news breaking journalism?

  1. I have to admit that I was embarrassed to see how many mistakes were made by news organizations during the coverage of the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing. I didn’t even want to look at Twitter because people were completely bashing journalists. I also found it hard to trust what was being said. I would hear one thing on TV, and then I would google it and follow up with more research. Eventually, I gave up and decided to wait for the newspaper (the next day). I think that stories on print are trusted more because more time is spent on them, which allows thorough fact-checking and a better chance at 100% accuracy. Overall, I believe in accuracy and no excuses. If there’s any uncertainty, the journalist or news organization should make that clear just like Jarvis says.

    • I agree, when I was watching it live I was monitoring the police departments live tweets, and multiple broadcasts. Often, they did not report the same information, or one would report it long before the others. Many of the networks seemed confused, which I understand because so much was going on, but as a viewer it frazzled me. I had to turn everything off and wait for more concrete info as well.

  2. Accuracy is always a journalist’s top priority. It is very disturbing that top media organizations are more concerned with breaking the news first instead of getting the story correct. I really like the last tip “always say how you know what you know.” You have to always be able to back up your facts. If you can’t then you know you have a problem and you definitely shouldn’t run your information. I think it’s better to be completely truthful with your readers instead of being the fastest at getting something out on social media. You don’t want to loose your readers respect because you were careless with your information. It truly is embarrassing for journalists everywhere.

    • I know, I read about all these mistakes and it was a very face palm moment. I hate that other journalists’ errors touch all journalists. They ruin respect for our profession. I agree that a trusting relationship between readers and media sources is of upmost importance. If we loose that trust it won’t matter how quickly we get info out, no one will read it.

  3. Raquel Rivera

    I agree, it is detrimental and embarrassing for all news outlets when mistakes happen, yet people still take the things we say to heart! Because journalism is supposed to be for the public and we strive for 100% accuracy all the time, I think a lot of people are quick to believe what they hear, see, or read about on the news. That’s how I am. There are definitely those people who are skeptical about everything, but I don;t think that is how the general public is.
    I think the speed of the news is important because we want everyone to be informed as soon as possible, but if it takes an extra hour or two to make sure the information that is going to be announced is true is worth the wait. CNN might always be first with the news but they are more at risk for publishing incorrect information and readers will notice. If another outlet takes 45 minutes more to publish breaking news but is always correct people will wait.

  4. I agree with others that this story created so many embarrassing mistakes for journalists. I think in times of national crisis, there’s a lot of pressure on media outlets to get as much information out to the public as possible. And oftentimes, the media has a civic responsibility to disseminate information to keep people safe. In the new social media landscape, there’s also a lot of pressure to be the first to report something and thus get credited with breaking news.

    Yet, this pressure doesn’t usually produce the best quality journalism. I like how Jarvis emphasized that journalists can also communicate what they don’t yet know and where they are getting their information. In all, I go back to a tweet I read from Roy Peter Clark during the Boston Marathon mis-reportings. His message read: “No one remembers who got it first,” said my Poynter colleague Mallary Tenore of breaking news. “Everyone remembers who got it wrong.”

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