Joe Paterno’s death: The erroneous report


It is certainly not uncommon for media outlets to base reports made on false claims. While a number of these reports have slid by with only minor repercussions, a large amount have come with extreme implications.

The death of Joe Paterno is a perfect example of the false reporting causing numerous implications. It could be said that competition for stories among media sources had become a dangerous game. The journalists of today will stop at very little in the battle for a story; and because of this jobs have been lost, fights have emerged, and even peoples’ lives jeopardized. While no journalist’s life was endangered in story of former legendary Penn State Football’s coach Joe Paterno’s death, one cannot help but notice the ethical implications caused by this reporting.
On Saturday January 21st reports of Paterno’s health worsening began to spread as his family was called to the hospital. Later in the day, one false claim of his death quickly spread from source to source, eventually making headline news.

Onward State, the student-run Penn State blog first reported the news, which said that he passed away. This story was supposedly verified from a number of sources, but who did the blog actually call to confirm this source? It never said who their was, but the most reliable contact would have been the hospital where Paterno was being treated.

Multiple Storify packages have timelined the erroneous reports of his death and many picked up on it. The mistake here was attribution and sourcing. The job of a journalist is to fact check, and confirm sources. Being first conflicts with being right, if we as journalists decide that being first is more important, we are going to fail the audience we right for. The right thing to do would have been to confirm the source before posting.

There is always going to be a negative connotation associated with Onward State and nobody wants that black mark – that is, the organization that reported a false bit of information. We need to be accurate and efficient, being first is less important. Ethically, it begs the question: do we care more about being first than being right?

The answer is sometimes. Most often we fail to do our jobs because we want to be first. We don’t think before we act, we just act. Its important to do both. We made a mistake in an effort to be first. What’s scary is that we made a mistake and blamed one student run publication. Yes its true that the false report originated from  the Onward State twitter account, but the responsibility of a journalist is to attribute a source that is feeding accurate information. Just because every journalist who reported the death of Joe Paterno when he was really still alive wants to blame Onward State, doesn’t mean they are free from blame. The blame falls just as much on them as it does Onward State because some journalists and organizations. If the journalist reported the information, he or she made a mistake.

The bottom line: Always check your sources, and then check them again. Make sure to corroborate your facts. Do your duty as a journalist – serve the people but do it the right way. Nobody likes someone who follows the crowd and then shuns the blame onto someone else for making a mistake. Grow up and own up to it! Grow up!

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