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Demand for breaking news leads to mistakes


Speed versus accuracy. You saw and heard it on full display Wednesday as reports out of Boston began to trickle out that an arrest had been made and a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings would be arraigned in federal court momentarily! CNN’s John King led with this, going so far as to read from his Blackberry that a “law enforcement source” was confirming this.

Do you remember the game “telephone?” Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that breaking news gathering looks and feels a lot like the game I played in kindergarten?

Wednesday morning, specifically on CNN, the story started as “significant progress” made in the investigation and rapidly developed into “unknown person identified” to “suspect identified” to “arrest made” to “arrest(s) made” to “suspect due to be arraigned in federal court,” all within 45 minutes. The truth, or REAL story, is most likely buried in one of these headlines or contains elements of them, but you can see how quickly the race to be first with “the news” can lead to, at the least, wildly inaccurate reports and, at worst, outright fabrications.

Just like we found out Monday, the initial reports are usually NOT the most accurate ones. CNN is an easy target for jumping the gun on this story but in a way, we are all to blame. We DEMAND instant news, analysis and preferably a conclusion to big stories like this, and we’d like it before dinner tonight. Thank you very much.

The reason this is becoming the norm is the speed in which we consume information. Remember the olden days when you had to wait until 5:30pm to get the news? Or even worse, wait for the morning paper to be delivered to get the details of a news story? In 2013, news organizations report, fact check, source, retract and re-report stories LIVE and on the fly, a process that used to happen behind the scenes and out of sight.

It’s like pulling back the curtain and finding out what the Wizard really looks like, in all his flawed glory.

Bruce St. James & Pamela Hughes