I was sitting at my desk, going over the list of stuff that I needed to focus on for the One Spark event that was to start in a few hours when someone in the newsroom called out my name. I looked up and she nodded her head to the screen.
“Are you seeing this?” she asked me.
“Seeing what?” I asked. I looked to the monitor at my left and saw nothing, because it wasn’t on. Then I looked father at the monitors on the wall. The top one shows CNN, the bottom one is a gathering of all the shots that we have access to. On CNN, it said “Sources Tell CNN Bomber ID’d” or something to that nature. I stand up, walk over to it and read it again.
“Oh, my God, seriously!?” I say outloud, looking over to the producer who caught my attention. She nodded and I immediately posted it on our social media sites. Facebook and Twitter jumped alive, clinging to the words I had posted about how CNN confirmed that the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings had been ID’d. I asked about putting CNN on the monitor next to me so I could pay attention to it and follow what was being said, and I don’t know how much longer it was after the first posts I made went out…but CNN was confirming that an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing had been made.
They said they had confirmed with a local LEO as well as the feds. I posted it to Facebook and Twitter.
Soon, there was a story on our website, published by the service that helps us keep News4Jax alive. I posted that as well.
Kent went on air, talking about how CNN confirmed an arrest. He talked to our crime and safety analyst.
Then CNN started to backtrack. I only caught part of the interview with the person who was first quoted as getting the confirmation. She kept saying things like “Conflicted reports” and “bad communication” and so on and so on. They are backtracking, recanting their first reports that had been going on for almost an hour. My heart dropped as I realized that now, I too would have to recant what was posted.
And I was just so looking forward to the onslaught of hate I was going to receive.
Then, a few hours after the mess, I see posts from two people – of which I work closely with – talking about how we need to confirm everything before we post it, that being first isn’t always the answer, and how we lose the faith of the media when things like this happen. I felt like a child being talked down to for trying to do something before I was allowed to, or expected to. It’s frustrating and insulting…but it’s also a really harsh reminder of a lot of things that could go wrong.
And boy, did things go wrong.
I have a million thoughts going through my head as I think about it. I’m furious that I was made to look like a fool by CNN – I trusted them when they said that they confirmed the arrests, and shared that with my readers and followers on our station pages. It’s bad enough we have given the public at large plenty of reasons to question the media, this just adds to it. It infuriates me when I have to deal with the readers and followers, spewing hatred left and right about how we missed the mark on this, and how we should confirm everything before posting and blah blah blah.
It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation: If I never posted anything, I would have gotten “Why the hell is CNN saying this and you aren’t reporting it?!” When I did post it, and it turned out to be wrong, I got “Why didn’t you confirm your information before posting? This is why you can’t trust the media!” — I post something that is confirmed by CNN, and get cheers. I recant what CNN said because they weren’t actually accurate, and I get slammed. It’s a no win situation.
I’m frustrated, offended, and filled with guilt when I hear people I respect criticize the media for “jumping the gun” and posting without our own confirmation. It’s CNN, one of the most famous and trusted news organizations known. Then when AP confirmed it, I felt more confident in posting it. I’m well aware that these two were not necessarily criticizing me but I feel like they were because of what I posted. I’m sure everyone else who posted the CNN confirmation are feeling the same way.
We didn’t mean to make a mistake…we just happened to make one thanks to CNN.
I think what it boils down to is exactly what my EP Stacey Readout posted in her blog. Double and triple checking your facts before going on air and “confirming” that a suspect has been ID’d and then arrested is professional practice. And sometimes being first isn’t always the best thing to be. But, newsrooms have to be able to rely on their affiliates; knowing that when they say something it’s accurate, trustworthy and firm. We have to know that the partners we work with are doing just as much hard work we are, and we have to know that we can rely and trust each other.
Because right now, my faith is dwindling much like the followers and viewers who are calling us out like we were the ones who reported it wrong, no matter how many times I wrote “confirmed by CNN.”