When tragedy strikes, I turn to the news. I find a TV and I’m glued, flipping between channels until I feel like I’m up-to-date. After a peer said she heard about an explosion at the Boston marathon, I did just that.
But what I found confused, frustrated and disappointed me. Instead of getting information, I got conjecture. Instead of hearing what reporters actually knew, I heard what reporters and pundits suspected and guessed. If journalists did claim something as fact, it turned out to be untrue.
I recognize the challenges of filling air time during a 24-hour news cycle. I appreciate the chaos and confusion that comes with covering breaking news. Journalists want to get the word out there as quickly as possible so that the public knows what’s going on as soon as possible.
But being first and acting fast means nothing if your information is inaccurate. Without credibility, journalists have nothing. Nobody will trust your storytelling if you get it wrong. Frankly, as a news consumer, I personally don’t care who gets it first – I care who gets it right.
Employees of The Poynter Institute have and are writing articles examining how the explosion is and was being covered, and how to do better. This is an opportunity to review how we cover breaking news, and how to actually serve the public best in the future. I recommend all journalists take the time to reflect and to read up – I know I am.