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.
GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work
The headline on the Congress-watching newspaper Politico said it all: “Done.”
RONN MOTT: A friend celebrates his 90th
I went to Charlie Fox’s 90th birthday party Sunday last. He was standing greeting people as they came in the door. I never saw him sit down even one time. He looked more like a man celebrating his 60th rather than his 90th.
Editorial: Bring on the ‘Miracle’
For five miraculous years, Terre Haute’s Christmas festival on a Friday night in early December has grown and prospered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 6, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cigars
Leaving Baesler’s Market the other day, making my round of errands, I started to re-light my cigar. It was left over from the day before and I did not place it in the humidor. It had gotten too dry, so I threw it into my garbage sack asking myself the question, “Why do I do this?” Well, I do it because I enjoy it.
TRIBUNE-STAR EDITORIAL: Changing attitudes demand GOP action
From all indications, the Republican Party’s legislative leadership will punt away in its next session the opportunity to make a good decision on behalf of all Hoosiers about placing a same-sex marriage ban in the state’s constitution.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 5, 2013
• Anarchy is in the ‘tea’ leaves
Editorial: Help us spread holiday cheer
The kind and generous people of the Wabash Valley are called upon often to help those less fortunate. We are proud to live an area where that call never goes unanswered.
- Readers’ Forum: Dec. 4, 2013
RONN MOTT: Cats, Inc.
I suppose we should give her a cake and a candle, but she would be happier with a handful of “treats” you can find wherever you shop for groceries. I’m talking about the two-year anniversary of the first cat we adopted. If we had known there were going to be more, her name probably would have been different. She was Orange Crush, a small, bedraggled, starving, Golden Tabby female that wandered into our yard a little after Thanksgiving. She had been badly maltreated.
MS. TAKES: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of. Our friend, Bill, stopped by our table to offer holiday felicitations and the conversation turned, as it often does this time of year, to Christmas.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 3, 2013
• Prestige chosen over practicality
• Tea partiers love country, freedom
• Same old clowns
LIZ CIANCONE: Plenty of downsides to tree with candlelight
I had been spinning my wheels over Thanksgiving preparations the other day, so my Best Friend took me out for breakfast — a little luxury I never tire of.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 3, 2013
Prestige chosen over practicality
Tea partiers love country, freedom
Same old clowns
EDITORIAL: For NESC, transparency best option
The five-member board of the Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is in the midst of tough times as it faces a difficult decision on the future of its schools, including Union High School in Dugger.
Readers’ Forum: Dec. 2, 2013
‘Ask not …’: Living by the words we speak
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
EDITORIAL: Preserving, improving our parks
Few amenities more greatly affect the quality of life in Terre Haute than its public parks.
FLASHPOINT: Getting right with history
I am ornery enough to never much worry about whether I am on the “right” side of history.
READERS’ FORUM: Dec. 1, 2013
The dangers of aggressive driving
Thanks to Lowe’s for great work
Another ‘Miracle’ set for Friday
Obama lies with malicious intent
Down the path to nowhere
Remembering to help needy
Jihadis, be careful what you wish for
Hanging on to people’s rights
No more trespassers thanks to mayor
RONN MOTT: Collett Park Christmas Walk always a special event
Since I live right across the street from Collett Park, I enjoy very much this particular neighborhood. And since I have walked around it a few times, I’m familiar with the 0.8 of a mile it takes to walk around the park. The Christmas Walk is a walk around the neighborhood. There were approximately 15 homes involved and open to the public this year
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
An expansion of county parks
A teacher, visionary and leader
Reader poll results
READERS’ FORUM: Nov. 29, 2013
Cooperation helps enhance security
RONN MOTT: Rule Changes
Watching the beginning of a new basketball season reminds me of my attempt to play basketball in high school. On the B-team, at a township high school my freshman and sophomore years, I fouled out of a great many basketball games.
EDITORIAL: To be solemn, reverent and grateful
Its label is “Thanksgiving.” As Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed this national holiday in 1863, this 24-hour period celebrates our blessings, to be “solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people.”
READERS’ FORUM: Nov. 28, 2013
Governor can put words into action
Editorial: Newspapers’ greatest day
Those who are limited in their news intake or gain most of their information from broadcast or Internet sources may be under the false impression that newspapers are a dying institution. They may believe that readers and advertisers have abandoned the traditional newspaper, be it print or digital, in favor of some other sort of news flow that relies on shallow streams of broadcast fluff or, even worse, social media.More astute observers of media trends and those who are discerning about the information they consume are quite aware that this newspaper doomsday scenario just ain’t so.
- Readers’ Forum: Nov. 27, 2013
RONN MOTT: A Hornet’s Nest
I seem to have kicked over a hornet’s nest in my criticism of the American health care system.
The basic fact of the matter is this: We do not have, in America, the highest-rated health care system. We are not in the top 10, nor top 20, but somewhere in the middle 30s. Yet we pay more for our health care than any other nation in the world.
LIZ CIANCONE: Mourning a death is a personal exercise
One does not properly “celebrate” an assassination, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are a lot of nuts out there. Coverage this past week of the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination still has the power to disturb, but all the theories won’t undo the facts.
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- GUEST EDITORIAL: Congress now free from the threat of too much work