April 22, 2013 by bmcconnelluwo
“CNN is saying he’s alive, so he’s definitely dead.”
Wise cracking words coming from Twitter – the king of the “first is better” mentality when it comes to delivering news.
As millions of viewers around the world saw last week, during one of the biggest stories—if not the biggest story—in the United States since 9/11, CNN literally “found a way to sh*t in their own mouths,” to take a phrase from Jon Stewart.
With millions watching, CNN reported—multiple days prematurely and clearly without absolute proof—that police forces in Boston had captured the main suspect behind the Marathon bombing.
What a glorious time that would have been for the country, the victims and for American homeland security.
Less than two days after the worst domestic attack on US soil since 9/11, the police had their man. God bless America.
Oh, wait, what’s that? That was completely wrong? CNN jumped the gun faster than new gun controls laws can be shot down in the US Senate? Well why did that happen? It seems a little [incredibly] irresponsible and just plain stupid.
Because being first is better than being right.
Seems pretty bass ackwards when you consider that the first obligations of any journalist—and, by extension any news organization—is to truth, accuracy and to its citizenry.
But that’s the news environment we see in the US right now—ratings, profit and being the first to break a story are the three most important drivers of content—not being right.
This is because of the mindset that viewers will flock away from any news organization that is not breaking the most up-to-date, dramatic and interesting content first. CNN does it first, they do it wrapped in the nicest bows, and their ratings are highest—just give me a sack with a dollar sign.
But this overlooks the three major obligations of journalists.
When first becomes more important than being right, any major information that equals higher ratings [i.e. we caught the bad guy] is seen as more valuable to the organization than, you know, the truth.
Sometimes the truth just isn’t as sexy – let’s give it a makeover.
So, it will be aired without the proper scrutiny needed to determine if the information is just that, true.
What’s more is that because of the never-ending 24-hour news cycles and the real-time speed of coverage made possible by the internet, wrong information can be corrected in real time.
So it’s no big deal if CNN does defecate in their own mouths, as per Jon Stewart, because they can just go back and say “Woops, actually that was completely wrong—our bad, but still trust us please.”
But this doesn’t make the mistake any less heinous from a journalistic perspective and, I would like to think that if this happens enough times that people will start becoming complacent about believing anything they’re reporting.
Money is obviously the name of the game for any media organization—you can’t, after all, become the most trusted name in news without it.
But if money becomes the only name that drives your editorial content and being first outweighs the ideological implications of getting it wrong [i.e. a weakening of mainstream media’s credibility] then you are simply failing to meet your fundamental obligations as a journalist.
Additionally, with more and more citizen journalists coming into the picture and the need for a “professional” class of journalists coming into question, consistently accurate, in-depth, informed and, above all, accountable journalism is what is going to set the mainstream apart and ultimately ensure their relevance.
But if the mainstream keeps giving fuel to Jon Stewart’s already impressive portfolio of poop jokes, I fear that relevance and trust are two things that will not last much longer.
So let’s slow ‘er down, people, check your sources that one extra time, don’t believe what the random people on the street are telling you without proper cross reference and please, for the love of God, don’t ever report a terrorist is in custody again until the people chasing him say so.
I’m looking at you, CNN. The FBI knows best.