TERRE HAUTE —
Enough mistakes and maybe we’ll learn: When in doubt, leave it out.
I saw the spirit of that timeless journalistic warning used the other night in the Boston Marathon case. Boston police were closing in on Suspect No. 2 and the people at my table went on high alert.
This was at a journalism awards banquet in Indianapolis. The meal had ended and the awards were starting when one of the college students at my table began streaming CNN on a smartphone. He propped it up so we could see. Four other student reporters hunched over their own phones, working the wires, news apps, BostonBombing hashtags and everything else they could check.
“Second suspect caught!” somebody said. They were reading a Boston radio station’s tweet. There were more reports, mostly from outlets or people we had never heard of.
“Let’s tell them at the podium,” somebody said. For about 15 seconds, it seemed like a great idea. We could break the news. A roomful of reporters, photographers and editors would want to know.
But AP didn’t have it. Neither did CNN or the other mainstream sites we were following. And the talk at the table was properly skeptical.
How do we know this? Who do we trust? Do we believe it enough to risk relaying a false report and looking foolish? In this case, the mainstream reports came about 10 minutes later, and by then it was clear others were getting their own reports.
The table’s caution was just good common sense: It’s not enough to be well read these days. With so many sources of information you have to be part editor — skeptical, questioning, demanding confirmation.
As Farhad Manjoo of Slate said, observing the rash of media mistakes in the Boston coverage: “Breaking news is broken.”
Big-name outlets like CNN, AP, Fox and the Boston Globe all carried an early, incorrect report that a suspect was in custody. The New York Post ran photos of two innocent men with the headline: “BAG MEN: Feds seek these two …”
The errors during hot pursuit were numerous, and by now completely expected. Twitter routinely includes false reports — both unintentionally and by design, as when people passed along faked pictures after the bombing.
Seattle columnist Mónica Guzmán, following the Boston manhunt by police scanner and Twitter hash tags, notes that two people were falsely named as suspects on Twitter hours before the second suspect was captured.
“Everybody got on it, started sharing it, and started to attack the family of one of these suspects,” she writes. When the mistake was revealed, they issued no corrections and simply deleted their tweets. A social media error, it seems, means never having to say you’re sorry.
Online veterans know this. But social is still young. As of December, only 16 percent of online adults said they used Twitter.
There’s advice for those just joining the social mediasphere. It comes from the world of journalism, where putting an error in the copy is serious business. At many newspapers, a correction in the paper calls for an explanatory note to the boss. Fear breeds caution, when it comes to corrections.
Generations of editors have offered terse advice, including these old favorites:
n “When in doubt, leave it out.” Origin unknown, though my first wire-service news editor would repeat this as a mantra. It should tug at the conscience of any writer with a finger over the button during a hot story.
n “Get it first, but first get it right.” Attributed to United Press editors. Translation: No excuses.
And finally the classic, said to be the motto of the famed City News Bureau in Chicago. It only sounds like hyperbole:
“Check it out. If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
John Strauss teaches journalism and is a student media adviser at Ball State University. He was an editor at the AP’s headquarters in New York and also served as a correspondent and state editor for the wire service in Tennessee and Indiana. He is also a former reporter for The Indianapolis Star.
TERRE HAUTE —
Enough mistakes and maybe we’ll learn: When in doubt, leave it out.
FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history
I am ornery enough to never much worry about whether I am on the “right” side of history.
FLASHPOINT: Dogged journalism is a blessing, not a curse
Let’s start with the obvious: A democracy needs intelligence agencies. It needs to know what’s happening in the world — and understand the plans of allies and enemies — to keep the nation prepared and secure.
FLASHPOINT: Same-sex marriage battle not good for state’s future
For those who can still bear to look, Indiana’s unemployment rate remains stuck above 8 percent.
FLASHPOINT: A pledge to work together with respect, civility
Indiana’s students and schools have made great progress in recent years. According to the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Indiana is improving at the second-fastest rate of any state in the country. We owe this progress to the hard work of our students, teachers and the parents and school reformers everywhere who have insisted that we hold ourselves to high standards.
FLASHPOINT: Putting children before politics
I very rarely write a response to an opinion article. However, when the title of the Indianapolis Star column says, “While Ritz, Board spar, children get hurt,” I feel compelled to clear the air.
FLASHPOINT: Prescription for Obamacare: delay employer mandates
An email I received from Daniel in Elkhart, Ind., summarizes the experience many Hoosiers are having with the recently launched Obamacare online health insurance marketplace:
FLASHPOINT: A common-sense Congress could strengthen our economy
My top priorities have always been to strengthen Indiana’s economy and to help create Hoosier jobs. We can all agree — Democrats and Republicans — that the recent government shutdown and the threat of failing to pay our nation’s bills were significant setbacks to this seemingly simple goal.
FLASHPOINT: How to improve the road ahead for our government
One of the more amazing spectacles in the days after the government shutdown ended was the obsession in Washington with who won and who lost in the showdown. Yes, the capital is focused on next year’s elections, but honestly! There was only one real loser, and that was the American people.
FLASHPOINT: Celebrating role of newspapers in protecting free speech
Where would we be as a nation without the freedom of speech?
FLASHPOINT: Hard-hitting ads are effective in preventing tobacco use, saving lives By
Reducing tobacco use is one of the most important things we can do to improve the health of Hoosiers. Education campaigns to alert of the dangers of tobacco use are critical, as are pointing them to resources to help them quit.
FLASHPOINT: A difficult decision to allow oil testing, drilling
Our current culture seems to tell us life’s struggle is all about good vs. evil and black-and-white decisions. The reality is that the hardest choices are those that aren’t clear cut. They’re the ones you can argue from either side but eventually must make based on only a slight edge. That is the kind of choice the Sisters of Providence had to make about whether to test for and drill for oil on our Mother House land.
FLASHPOINT: It’s time for an intervention
The American public has lost patience with Washington.
Flashpoint: Access to home health care hangs in the balance
Growing older is a fact of life that the baby boom generation is facing head on.
FLASHPOINT: What Congress needs to do about the NSA
Washington is beginning to debate the proper extent of government eavesdropping powers in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA.
FLASHPOINT: Vigo County: Cutting-edge of school safety
The recent shooting at the D.C. Navy Yard has been all over the news lately.
FLASHPOINT: Congress and Syria
As Washington swirls with proposals, counter-proposals, and political brinksmanship in response to diplomatic efforts on Syria, the situation has a lot of people scratching their heads. Couldn’t President Obama and Congress have handled this differently?
FLASHPOINT: The north side suffers from School Board’s decisions
As the parent of four children on the north side of the Vigo County School Corp., I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the growing disparity in opportunities and facilities provided to students depending upon where they reside.
FLASHPOINT: How Congress, the media and the public got played
Aaron Sorkin couldn’t have written it any better. The president of the United States makes threats, flexes his muscles, and bides his time as Congress takes its time mulling over various military options. Knowing the prolonged nature of the congressional decision-making process, Obama used this time to get what he really wants: a peaceful, international solution to the Syrian situation.
FLASHPOINT: Why the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza is so popular
About 15,000 people attended the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza this year — numbers that mirror the attendance count from 2012 and 2011. But why does Terre Haute experience a 25-percent increase in population for this particular event’s three-day duration?
Flashpoint: Perhaps Tony Bennett was right?
What if Tony Bennett was right and the Associated Press got it wrong? You may start preparing yourself for the possibility.
FLASHPOINT: A new vision for Indiana’s education system
A recently published political cartoon stated that, “school reform will continue with Glenda Ritz as the new driver.”
FLASHPOINT: Unwise fracking policy could hinder economic development
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the amount of technically recoverable oil from shale formations has jumped 10 times in the past two years and the amount of technically recoverable shale gas is up 10 percent. In and around Terre Haute, the Illinois Basin shale formation could play an important part in stimulating the economy and helping to meet U.S. consumers’ energy needs for many years to come.
FLASHPOINT: Indiana hospitals embrace notion of price transparency
Following the federal government’s release of data on hospital charges for Medicare patients, much has been written nationally about how health care providers determine prices, the variation in charges for the same procedure and the willingness of hospitals to “come clean” on the issue of price transparency. As president of the Indiana Hospital Association, representing 164 Hoosier hospitals and health systems, we fully embrace price transparency.
FLASHPOINT: The Affordable Care Act’s youth problem
Young Americans may soon experience “sticker shock” when shopping for health insurance. A new survey of insurers estimates that premiums will almost triple for a hypothetical 27-year-old man next year, once all the federal health reform law’s rules take effect.
FLASHPOINT: Despite challenges, Ivy Tech remains vital to state’s future
I recently read economist Morton Marcus’ piece, “Ivy Tech: Our Hope, Our Failure.” I was interested in his perspective enough to provide some comments as a local business owner who understands the important role higher education plays in the success of companies here in Indiana.
FLASHPOINT: Tax punishes Hoosier workers
For years, medical devices have been changing the lives of patients around the world.
Prosthetic legs have enabled wounded soldiers to run again. Cardiac patients have had decades added to their lives because of artificial heart valves and stents.
FLASHPOINT: Wabash River should be appreciated and protected
Boating down the Wabash River near Lafayette on July 16, I witnessed firsthand the broad, winding river’s scenic beauty, but I also got a lesson in the environmental challenges the river faces when two Asian carp hurled themselves out of the water and landed in our boat.
FLASHPOINT: Obamacare’s definition of a full-time job needs revising
In Lafayette, a school district cut the hours of 200 support staff to no more than 29 per week. In Bangor, Maine, the school system is preparing to track and cap the number of hours worked by substitute teachers to ensure that they don’t work more than 29 hours a week. Elsewhere, in Portland, Maine, a small business reduced a part-time employee’s hours from 35 to 29. We are hearing reports like this from across the country. Why is this happening?
FLASHPOINT: In politics, why trust is the coin of the realm
Back in June, Gallup released a survey that got a fair bit of attention for its headline finding: only 10 percent of Americans trust Congress as an institution. Think about it. If you walk into a cafe this morning and there are nine other people in there reading the paper or staring into their laptops, only one of you in the room has faith that the body charged with making our nation’s laws can do its job right.
FLASHPOINT: The ‘war on coal’ will hurt every Hoosier
A survey published recently revealed that 76 percent of Americans are currently living paycheck to paycheck with little or no real safety net in the form of savings. Yet at every turn, it seems like the Obama Administration is making it more difficult for families and businesses to make ends meet at the end of the month.
- More Flashpoint Headlines
- FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history