WIUM Tristates Public Radio

"The Reports of My Death have been Greatly Exaggerated"

Oct 10, 2017

Mark Twain deserves credit for the quote used in the headline, while journalists who report on someone's demise before it's confirmed discredit their industry.

The problem with verification came up again on October 2 when several news outlets reported that musician Tom Petty died.  The reports surfaced around midday (Central time), and the outlets were forced to retract their stories when it turned out Petty was still alive.  He was officially pronounced dead late that night, many hours after the initial reports.

Shop Talk panelist Will Buss said the mess should serve as a good lesson for reporters.  Buss worked for many years as a newspaper reporter in the St. Louis area and he can recall several instances in which reporters there got it wrong because they ran with information before verifying it.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton said this should also prove to be a good learning experience for broadcast journalism students.  She said reporters lose credibility when they go along with what everyone else is reporting instead of double checking the facts.

Panelist Rich Egger said he suspected the original stories about Petty’s death were erroneous when he saw nothing about it from NPR or the New York Times.  He said both took a much more cautious approach and did not issue reports until confirmation was received late at night.

The panelists agree some outlets bowed to the pressure of trying to be first with the story.  They feel social media played a role in creating that pressure because of its 24/7 news cycle.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.