"I'd rather be behind and right than ahead and wrong."
So said Associated Press executive editor Kathleen Carroll in a story in this week's ADWEEK.
The article takes an in-depth look at the ever-growing pressure on media to be first to break news. That pressure, which has been heightened exponentially by online and social media that can pump out breaking news in a single tweet or email blast, has caused erroneous information to be quickly spread. And sometimes that wrong information gets picked up by major news organizations that usually have a very high credibility reputation -- The New York Times, CNN, NPR, FOX News (well, sort of) and others.
It takes time to verify information, and editors must feel tremendous pressure to jump onto the bandwagon as news of Michael Jackson's or Joe Paterno's death, or whether Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was killed or not in the Tucson shootings runs wild online. No one likes to be last. But quality newsrooms don't want to be wrong.
Many people subscribe to the idea that just because it's on the internet doesn't mean it's true. It used to be that many of those doubters relied on mainstream news -- newspapers, network TV, radio -- to verify breaking news items we'd see online and in social media.
But since some of those rumors that swirl about online have crept into news reports on mainstream media, it seems the public is losing confidence in the news media overall. The Gallup poll from last summer had 66 percent of Americans feeling the media reports stories that "are often inaccurate." That's up from 34 percent who felt that way 25 years ago.
Despite the growing lack of trust, many still rely on major news organizations when they want to find out what is really going on. But they probably won't get to those news organizations via the traditional route -- opening a newspaper or tuning in to CNN or a network or local TV channel. As more of us have smartphones and tablets, we look for news online. But still, when we want to know for sure what is happening, we'll use our portable device to link into the website of The New York Times or CNN or NBC. Because we still trust those old-line news organizations to be reliable and get the story right -- even if they're not the fastest.
Adweek quotes Julie Moss, director of Poynter Online -- a site for journalists -- about the choice news organizations make between being first and being right. "I actually do believe it matters less and less who's first with something, particularly when you have two or more people reporting on the same thing. What matters is originality. I assume that in most cases, we will get beat."
Maybe so, although if you're second on a story but you get it right, then I'd say you've won. You've won the public's trust.