Viewpoint: The Desire for Media to be First Rather Than Accurate
The phrase, “we live in a digital age,” has never been more true. Besides the four major networks (CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX), which used to be the primary source for information, television has evolved so much so that we now have subcategory news channels like CBNC, MSNBC and FOX News. Let’s not forget about CNN or BBC News either.
But this is just television. That’s your parent’s medium. The younger generation of today relies on the Internet to receive information and why, because it’s instant. If you’re not in front of the old tube, just turn on your smart phone or tablet to check for up-to-the-minute news.
Or just ignore the professionals all together and follow Facebook and Twitter because based on what took place during the Newtown, Conn. school shooting coverage, the validity of the reports may have been about the same.
The amount of false information that was presented during this tragic day was alarming. Pressed with the desire to be “first” rather than “accurate,” news media fell prey to reporting “facts” with “unnamed sources” rather than waiting. With a story of this magnitude, the press should have given those affected by the Newtown tragedy the courtesy of waiting to ensure the information was in fact accurate.
Among the most egregious was the report that Ryan Lanza and not Adam Lanza had been the gunman. Once this important bit of information was corrected, the confusion was cleared up when a person who had spoken with Ryan said that his brother may have been carrying identification belonging to him.
But forget this seemingly explainable excuse for a second. Ryan Lanza was reported as being the shooter for several hours. Ryan himself had to turn to social media to declare, “It wasn’t me” to defend his own name. With the speed with which information moves these days, not only was Ryan’s reputation in danger, so was his life.
Besides reporting the wrong brother, initial reports differed as to whether Lanza’s mother, Nancy, was shot at the school or if she was a teacher there. By Friday afternoon, it was determined that not only had she been shot at the home she shared with Adam, but that there appeared to be no connection between Nancy and the school.
The erroneous reporting of Nancy’s connection with the school only caused further confusion during the beginning of the news coverage as the attack was said to have taken place in her own classroom. More than one on-air analyst interpreted this false information as a possible motive for Adam Lanza to get back at his mother for giving her students more attention than her own son.
Other reporting errors included numerous versions of what Lanza was wearing and what weapons he used during the shooting. There was even an early report of a second gunman still on the loose.
With so much confusion, TV correspondents and personalities were left to spew their own speculative rhetoric on the events. Reporters interviewed children, with the only conceivable reason being to show the face of innocence to juxtapose the horrific event that had occurred. But instead it only felt manipulative and exploitative. There’s almost never a journalistic reason to interview children, especially those who are likely in shock.
Instead of focusing on gathering the information, confirming it and then sharing it with the rest of the world, the media reported whatever they could to fill airtime. In an age where so many outlets are available to get information, maybe we should be focusing on gathering the facts rather than competing to get to the finish line first.
Since that terrible day last Friday, most of the ancillary news coverage has been about gun control or mental health and deservedly so. But there also needs to be accountability for the people who’s job it is to decide what news to report. If they have the ability to do that, they should at least get it right.