As a journalist, I was embarrassed today

As a journalist, I was embarrassed today

This is difficult to write, because the very people I risk offending are those that I work with or might work with in the future, but here’s the point: Today I am embarassed.

Today was another sad and awful day with another mass shooting in yet another community — but just as our society hasn’t figured out how to stop these crimes from happening, journalists as a group have not figured out how to report on them with a consistent ethical code.

Reporting on the most important piece of information — the number of casualties — was slipshod at best. Newsrooms quoted other newsrooms or sourced officials who didn’t have a reasonable basis for their information.

bad-pushes-2In general, the majority of our establishment caved to the pressure of competition and posted numbers that turned out to be wrong.

Throughout the coverage, I saved screen shots of the examples that I will refer to here. However, I’ve decided not to publish most of those examples here because I cannot sufficiently disguise the media entities that I will be critiquing.

You’ll have to take my word for it.

One news app on my phone sent me two push alerts within 16 minutes. The first said 10 people were killed, but the second message from the same source said it was between 7 and 10 deceased.

In another example, a Tweet from a major wire service indicated 13 dead and 20 wounded. But not even two minutes later, the sheriff in charge stood at his podium and declined to give any numbers at all.

(At the time I’m writing this, several hours later, the official number is 10 killed and 7 wounded.)

In several other examples I saved, facts in headlines and in story text on the same web page do not match. One headline says “between 7 and 10” dead but the body of that story indicates “at least 10.”

Another headline says “13 dead,” but the graphic shows “at least 7 people dead.”

If that was my website, I’d be embarrassed.

And my website was embarrassed tonight too. We trusted one of our affiliates when they reported the gunman was captured, but that was also incorrect. In the end, the sheriff revealed the killer was dead after a shootout with responding officers.

This is a terrible event for the families who were affected, it is a terrible event for everyone in the country and it was a terrible event for us in the media. As a group we failed to live up the standards we’ve set for ourselves, and it isn’t the first time.