Pressures of "instant news" make it tough for journalists on breaking stories
Much has been said about erroneous reports by respected news organizations as the Boston Marathon bombing story was unfolding. CNN, in particular, took hits for reporting an arrest while the suspect was still at large. The Associated Press and the Boston Herald also made similar mistakes.
At the same time, CBS News, which I watched as the pursuit took place last Friday night, was reporting very cautiously. Anchor Scott Pelley and terrorism reporter John Miller, a former FBI assistant director, were telling viewers what they were hearing from various sources, but even as they gave these updates, they repeatedly said the information was unconfirmed and might not be totally accurate.
As a news consumer, I can understand those cautionary notes and I also appreciate them. I am being advised that this is what reporters are hearing, and that it may or may not be true.
Covering a fast-breaking story is tricky, especially when police are cautiously -- and understandably -- holding back information. Add to the confusion the information and misinformation coming across on Twitter and one can see what a minefield reporters and editors must wade through.
But when it becomes a race to be first to break news, mistakes get made. Even by the AP, whose executive editor Kathleen Carroll said, less than a year ago, "I'd rather be behind and right than ahead and wrong."
If mistakes are made, we may only have ourselves to blame. We're the ones whose demand for instant knowledge has been pushing the media in their rush to be first, even if being first isn't necessarily being right.
And if you read an interesting piece by Jack Shafer, who blogs for Reuters, you'll see errors in news reporting are nothing new. The bottom line is, we all make mistakes ... especially in the rush to be first.