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News organizations lose credibility in rush to be first

NBC News mistakenly reports that singer Neil Young died instead of astronaut Neil Armstrong.

Our credibility is shot. News organizations in this digital age have rushed to produce content and publish as fast as possible to their websites, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. The problem with this mentality is the public has lost respect for the news.

In a poll, released in August, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, news organizations believability fell significantly. The New York Times, USA Today and Fox News have the lowest believability rating, according to this survey.  What are the reasons for this decline? With mistakes being made by major publications, has the public lost faith in the news?

Competition with other news organizations and the pressure to be No. 1 has come at a price.

In a recent incident, NBC News published the headline: Astronaut Neil Young, first man to walk on the moon, dies at 82. The headline is wrong. Canadian singer Neil Young is, of course, alive. Astronaut Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82.

NBC was one of the first news outlets to confirm the astronaut’s death but in a rush to get the story on its website first, it made an error.  The error remained on the site for less than 10 minutes. But during those crucial minutes, the online community began tweeting and blogging about the mistake. Once something is on the Web, it is hard to get it back.

CNN and Fox News  had a similar problem when the Supreme Court released its decision on President Obama’s health care plan.  When the decision was released, CNN and Fox News were two news organizations that got it wrong in the rush to be first. The news organizations mistakenly reported that the individual mandate portion of  Obama’s health care law had been struck down. This was not the case; the mandate was upheld.  It becomes extremely crucial to get things right – especially with breaking news. The mistake occurred because reporters did not read the entire decision before posting the news. Did they jump  the gun?

One more example of a news organization’s mistake was NPR reporting that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords died. Many other news organizations picked up the NPR story.  Later reports confirmed that Giffords was alive.

These examples show that even major publications can make mistakes by rushing to be first. The solutions could be more eyes looking at stories and headlines before publication online. The race to be first needs to be second to the quality of the information being published.

News organizations need to build back their trust with the public. People will always remember the mistakes made. They will not remember that a certain news organization was first to confirm a story.

– Lorena Carmona

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  1. September 13, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    For the most part, I agree with your assessment Lorena. The push to be first as come at the cost of accuracy. Another example of this is when Joe Paterno died. Many organizations reported him dead before he actually died. I can just imagine reporters gathered around the hospital wishing for his death so they could Tweet it first.

    Now people will remember mistakes more so than who got the story out first. However, we shouldn’t act like getting the story out first isn’t important. If you get it out first, you will get the most initial views most likely. More views means more money. And in the end, money is what’s important because this is a business. If being first didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be such a rush by reporters to break a story. But regardless, it is ridiculous what being first has become. And you have solid evidence here to back that up.

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