Has the Rush to be First Disturbed Basic Ethics of Journalism?

As a print journalism enthusiast, I often hear that the newspaper, and other print forms will die out, leading to a complete digital era. Many class discussions focus on the rush for newspapers and magazines to have a firm online stand. No longer has it become acceptable to print today’s news tomorrow, information is constantly being updated and added to these media sites. In addition to become digital, news must now be instant, further driving the need for media outlets to be the first to release information, the first to break a story, the first to interview a celebrity or person of interest. But, has the need to be the first to publish or share information, shaken the core ethics of Journalism?

No I’m not being dramatic, let me provide you with a simple and recent example.

On Jan. 21, Joe Paterno, former foot ball coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions was falsely declared dead by a tweet.  Onward State, an alternative paper based at Penn State Main, who is often competing with The Daily Collegian, the official campus student newspaper,  declared Paterno to be no more. In hast to be among the first media outlets to report changes in Paterno’s condition,  CBS Sports went ahead and released Paterno’s obituary without citing a direct source for news about Paterno’s death.

Media outlets such as Onward State, The Daily Collegian and CBS must surely have codes of ethics. What was the decision like when deciding to publish information about Paterno’s death. How did the need to be first play a role in the decision? Did it weigh more than the need to verify information?

What has happened to the days of double, perhaps triple checking sources?

The false report of Paterno’s death caused a great stir among Penn State fans, and among several of the people I follow on twitter. Imagine my surprise Saturday night, as people  began replying to the tweets of larger media outlets, correcting their mistake.

Paterno is not the only one who has been falsely declared dead by the media. Over a year ago news organizations pronounced Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifforddead after a shooting in Arizona. Giffords has recently resigned from Congress.

It is rather unlikely that mistakes like these will stop, as the demand for instant information will never go away. Should media outlets compromise their ethics in the drive to be first? What do you think?


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