Get it first or get it right?
I spent a lot of my weekend watching the coverage of the shootings in Tuscon Arizona. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman who was shot in the head, really is lucky to be alive. That's because several news organizations reported she was dead. She wasn't. They were wrong and that's a problem.
Breaking news situations like this one can be chaotic for tv news, especially in the first couple of hours. There is very little information and there is no script. Anchors have to fill time and often repeat themselves because there is nothing new to report. You could make the argument that they should just report what they know, and then come back later when they have new information. I agree with this point to a certain degree. As a viewer, I've often said during a breaking news situation I should turn back in a few hours or a day later to get the full story because often what is reported in the beginning is wrong. But as a practical matter, I don't believe a news organization can do this. The Tuscon shootings were such a big story that I think most viewers would have turned to another channel if say CNN only reported on the story when there was new information. It is kinda like watching hurricane coverage. A lot of it is silly and dangerous but you can't take your eyes off it.
But all reporters, including myself, need to be reminded during breaking news that it is important to get the story right. As a reporter, I am not perfect. I've made my mistakes. But one thing I wouldn't want to get wrong is whether someone is dead or alive. That is something I would check with several sources. If I only had one source, I would be very reluctant to report that. After reporting for more than a hour Rep. Giffords had died, one cable news network had to retract the story. Then to make matters worse, the anchors tried to make excuses!!!!
I've been in many breaking news situations throughout my career. It can be hectic but there's a huge adrenaline rush. It is hard to explain it if you are not a reporter. Unfortunately, sometimes we get caught up in the moment of trying to beat the competition. We want to be first. But let's not forget first and foremost we need to be right. I hope the Tuscon shootings remind us of that.