PAINTER: Lessons to be learned from inaccurate reporting

Now that we have survived the end-of-the-world scenario, let’s hope that 2013 is more prosperous for all of us.
Dec 26, 2012

 

We’ve suffered a great deal in recent years: Job losses, home foreclosures and shooting tragedies.

We’ve all got our fingers crossed that Congress and the Obama administration will finally agree on a budget plan that will prevent the nation from falling off the fiscal cliff. We’re counting on them.

There will also be much debate in 2013 about ways to prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. What will come from that debate is still uncertain. Gun control and school security are going to be two of the biggest issues that will be addressed.

A topic that is close to my heart is the media’s coverage of the tragedy. Did the media learn a lesson from its coverage? I hope so.

I know I and a lot of my colleagues were appalled at all the mistakes made by the media, including the TV networks and major newspapers, and The Associated Press.

The media fell prey to reporting “facts” that were just plain wrong. That is a shame.

Anytime there is a major news story — such as the Sandy Hook massacre — reporters from all over converge on the scene, trying their best to give readers and viewers accurate accounts of what transpired.

Unfortunately, the reporters were so intent in the race to be first that they got many facts wrong.

They relied on too many anonymous sources to get their information. But the fact is, there were far too many errors. The media misidentified the shooter, the mother’s connection to Sandy Hook and the number of people shot to death.

They identified the shooter as Adam Lanza’s older brother, Ryan Lanza. Adam’s mother, Nancy Lanza, was identified as a teacher at the school and that Adam targeted his mother’s class. She wasn’t a teacher at the school.

Some media outlets also reported that Adam killed his father.

I can understand some mistakes. That is the nature of the news business, especially in these days of 24/7 news coverage. The Internet and social media outlets have changed the way we report news. Consumers are hungry for information. They’ll search websites, Facebook and Twitter for the latest information. We try to get them information as soon as possible.

But the coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting was appalling. All the errors made were unacceptable.

The media has a responsibility to its readers and viewers to be as accurate as possible. Their credibility is on the line.

The identity of the shooter should have been absolutely confirmed before his name is published or shown on television. Ryan Lanza had to use social media to tell everyone that he wasn’t the killer.

The misidentification of Nancy Lanza’s occupation should have never occurred. There are ways to find out the names of teachers at a particular school. Many school districts list their teachers on their websites.

Reporters should have been more diligent and should have searched harder for the facts.

I’ve also had some people comment to me about the media attempting to interview children who escaped the massacre. Should reporters be able to interview children 6 and 7 years old? Some of the major television outlets did. Critics wondered about what useful information could come from those interviews.

It’s a tough call, especially if parents willingly allow their children to be interviewed. But I agree that not a lot of information was gleaned from the children’s comments.

Some reporters even tried to set up interviews with parents of the shooting victims on the same day of the shootings. One woman, who is friends with the parents of a shooting victim, said she was asked via e-mail to ask the parents for an interview. The woman’s response to the reporter’s e-mail is unprintable in a family newspaper.

The media needs to be more diligent in its reporting of facts in a major news story.

Take elections, for example. The media now waits to release information on their exit polls in a state until the polls close. They put accuracy ahead of speed.

Why can’t the same practice be applied to reporting of a major news event, such as the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook?

We need the media to report the news. But we also need for the media to be more accurate. I’m counting on the media to do a better job in 2013.

 

 

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