Monday, March 31, 2014

Breaking News

This week in 1981,  President Reagan was shot by John Hinckley.  And anyone 50 or older can tell you exactly where they were when it happened.  It was one of the biggest news stories of all time. 

Watching the news coverage of the event was enthralling to say the least.  The networks broke in with their coverage during the afternoon soaps, and as word spread, millions upon millions turned their sets on to find out the latest.  And the newsrooms of the big three did a lousy job of reporting.  We got to see how giant news operations worked up close.  Every new detail regarding the shooting was passed to the announcer on air via a piece of paper regardless of whether or not the new detail was vetted or not.  For the most part, the details were wrong.  Jim Brady, the White House Press Secretary was declared dead then alive a few different times during the networks' broadcast.

Surely, facing another one of these huge stories today, 33 years later, the news organizations would perform better, right?  Don't be so sure.  Due to the social networks, we now have millions of additional news outlets all ready to contribute to a breaking story on a 24/7 basis. 

How many times has flight MH 370 been incorrectly spotted during these past few weeks?  And most recently, both Wayne Knight and Pele have been incorrectly identified as dying by so-called established news agencies.  The desire to be first in reporting the news has trumped the desire to be accurate.  Time, as they say, is money. 

It would be great if there was an index for every news reporting entity (paper, radio, tv, etc.) that took into account both speed and accuracy so that the viewing public knew on a regular basis who was providing the most complete and best coverage of any given story.  In the words of Frank Reynolds on that fateful March day in 1981, "Let's get it nailed down.  Let's get it right."

ABC Coverage of the Reagan Assassination Attempt