On Friday morning, a gunman opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport, and a TSA officer was killed. As the details unfolded, one major media outlet got lost in the alphabet soup. It inaccurately reported that a former NSA chief – not a TSA employee – had been killed at LAX.
The Globe and Mail, the largest national newspaper in Canada, published a story with the headline “Ex-NSA shot dead at LAX, Los Angeles Police say” and said that a radical Christian group had claimed responsibility. Globe and Mail’s source, however, was not LAPD but, in fact, a fake Twitter account with the handle @HeadIineNews, which used the same logo as @BreakingNews. To make matters worse, the story’s byline was given to both Reuters and the Associated Press, even though neither reported these “facts.”
The mistakes made by Globe and Mail are obvious. It failed to consult additional sources, change the byline and look further into the Twitter account it was trusting for information. Nonetheless, these errors are being made more frequently. With breaking news stories, names and numbers may be incorrectly reported to the public. The Navy Yard shooting in September and the Boston bombing in April are two recent examples.
Releasing information that has not been fact-checked is inexcusable from any publication. That’s why policies are put in place for conducting thorough and ethical reporting. However, journalists working on a 24-hour news cycle are experiencing rising pressures that have diminished the emphasis placed on following these policies.
The race to be the first to break the news has superseded the desire to be correct. And while it is important to disseminate information as early as possible if it promotes public safety, the report won’t be beneficial at all when the information is false.
Many argue that journalists are simply giving the public what it wants: instant access to information. But perhaps it’s not as much about the consumers as it is about the competition.
Each news outlet knows the other is ready to hit “publish” on the online story, and every one wants to pounce on the opportunity to be the first. The truth is, as consumers, we would be content waiting a bit longer for a breaking news alert on our smartphones if we could be guaranteed that the notification was accurate.
It’s a trade-off. The media should know that consumers are prepared to sacrifice immediacy for accuracy. But it should never be the other way around.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.