Until we right the balance between speed and accuracy, similar mistakes will be commonplace. That’s why it’s so important to improve the incentives for responsible reporting. It’s encouraging to see NBC’s Williams achieve temporary journalistic folk-hero status for his accurate but ahead-of-the-pack reporting; more praise is also needed for outlets like The New York Times who were cautious and judicious in what they reported.
More importantly, though, it’s essential to dwell on the mistakes made by news organizations, painful as that may be. This, too, is happening to some extent. CNN in particular has become a punchline in social media and an object of ridicule in outlets like The Daily Show, prompting somber assessments of damage to the struggling network’s brand from prominent media critics like Dylan Byers and David Carr.
But while the attention on CNN’s missteps is welcome, the cable network was not alone in making important errors during coverage of the bombing—the Associated Press, for instance, also mistakenly reported that a suspect was in custody Wednesday. The problem is that the institutional memory for journalistic errors like these is far too short. More fundamental changes are needed—any chance we can create an anti-Pulitzer for worst breaking news coverage?
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