Opinion | Media organizations should value accuracy over immediacy when releasing information
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 02:10
This weekend, Miami Student editors had to grapple with an issue that all media outlets face: the pressure to publish first and the risk of publishing incorrect information that comes along with breaking news.
Saturday, Cincinnati.com reported that a Miami University student was hit by an Oxford Police Department cruiser and killed. After finding this information, Miami Student staff had to decide whether to publish something immediately, going off Cincinnati.com’s information (a reputable newspaper) or wait until we had primary sources confirming this information. We decided to wait and found out the Miami student had not been killed but was in critical condition in a nearby hospital.
The Miami Student editorial board would like to point out that in this particular situation, we were lucky. Had we simply followed the current information, we would have been perpetuating inaccurate facts. However, if these facts had been correct and we had still waited to gather our own information, we would have been lagging behind all the other sources that released stories hours before us about an event on our own campus.
This tricky situation with breaking news and inaccurate facts happens all the time in the media, primarily because publications face the severe demands of time more than ever in this intensely rapid digital age. Even in small local media, there is intense pressure to be first to get something out, and for others who don’t break the news, to immediately catch up and add something to the story. Today we seem to live with a journalistic mentality that being first, even without being the most accurate, is best. This leads to a dangerous cycle of publications regurgitating rumors rather than synthesizing stories or looking for their own information.
Furthermore, in this age of choppy, rapid news, context is often overlooked and corrections seem to be preferred over first-time accuracy. We believe that the duty of journalists is to provide the public with information and events as soon as possible, but also with as much accuracy as possible and contextual elements that underscore the situation and importance of the story.
As Miami University’s student newspaper, we have an interesting role because we’re the closest to the news that happens here. We have better access to people here and it’s our main responsibility to get the news delivered correctly, rather than quickly.
We hear all the time how people are becoming less trusting of the media, and we can’t blame them. Each publication is responsible for fact checking, and if a media organization values speed over accuracy, they will rather publish a story with incorrect facts and comment on them later. Not everyone who sees the original news piece sees these corrections. Therefore this mentality of “first is best” does not best serve media consumers, but rather best serves the profit-driven media industries vying for audiences.
We believe that mistakes will inevitably happen in journalism, as news is still produced by people, and in the flurry of breaking news, sometimes things are delivered incorrectly. However, we feel that more importance should be placed on fact checking and attribution to allow readers to gather correct information, or to at least know where the news source received an incorrect fact.
Dealing with breaking news is a very tricky situation every time; there’s no model or perfect formula to follow. Editorial judgment, luck and speed all play roles in whether information is delivered accurately and whether a reputation of a newspaper is tarnished or maintained.
Everyone makes mistakes in their jobs and journalists’ mistakes are entirely public. Journalists should continue to get information out as soon as possible while striving to maintain accuracy, because the words that they release impact the people reading them.