Late on Saturday night, the Twittersphere blew up with the news that Joe Paterno had died.
Except he didn’t.
Judging by this hashtag, it appears CBS incorrectly broke the story.
Even though his family confirmed that he did pass away a few hours later, I think it’s still worth mentioning that this speed-over-accuracy media atmosphere we are all a part of is troubling.
It’s troubling because, besides a clever hashtag, there seems to be no repercussions for spreading such an untrue story, leading most to believe that this wasn’t a big deal.
But I think it is a big deal.
Our country’s freedom of the press is something we all take for granted. A morning newspaper on the doorstep has been, for most of us, as American as baseball and Occupy Wall Street. But as social media continues its rapid ascent as our main source of news-gathering, we risk losing maybe our best source of news-gathering.
I’m talking, again, about the newspaper. (Don’t think I didn’t think about calling this post “Why We Need Newspapers, Part 2.”)
Newspapers don’t make mistakes like this. They have the luxury — yes, the luxury — of checking their facts. It’s been a long time since a print newspaper actually “broke” a story, but that’s no longer their place in the world. A successful paper must now focus on analysis. They must write the stories behind the stories that broke the night before.
That’s where they can thrive.
But I fear that the news about Paterno passing away will only serve to put this thought in our heads that newspapers should go the way of the dinosaurs.
If anything, it should make them settle in for a fight to stay relevant.
I wish there was a way to hold those accountable who mislead us to be punished, but, for now, we’ll have to let the Court of Public Opinion levy the punishment.
Our job, for those of us who are active in social media, is not to fan the flames. When we hear something shocking, it’s up to us to check our facts. Read it with a grain of salt.
Because if we don’t, we’re only fanning the flames of inaccuracy. And once we’ve made it clear that we can tolerate mistakes, there’s nothing to hold back the wave of falsity.