Thursday, April 18, 2013

Today's Journalism: Better to be first than right

Wednesday was a bad day for journalism, whether you were covering the Boston explosions or following the news from your computer or mobile phone. Depending on which media outlet you were clicking on, you could have read that a suspect had been arrested. Or was close to being arrested. Or was going to be arraigned in federal court. Or none of the above.

For those who thought we had learned a lesson from the mistakes of Newtown (remember the brother who was reported to be the shooter?), nothing has changed. And it won't change.

Here's why getting it first is always going to matter enough to risk
getting it wrong: Money. It's always about money. Remember, corporations own the major media outlets. Journalism is their product. They make money by breaking stories that draw readers to them and away from their competitors.

It's much worse now than it used to be before the 24-hour news cycle. Back then, you were usually trying to top the cross-town paper or a few hapless local television hacks. Now you're up against national competition on seemingly every story. And you can be beaten by a minute. So there's never enough time to double-check and confirm stories. You got a source who tells you something? You go with it and hope you look smart. If not, you still get your clicks and your money for the wrong story, and then you just slap a different story up on the web to replace it. There's no penalty for screwing up. Corrections? That's soooo 20th century.

It isn't going to get better. The pressure to break a story isn't going to let up, not in the Boston explosions or in the next major national story that occurs. And that means there will be more errors along the way, more victims of the rush to report and more home pages like this one on

And the media is going to lose so much credibility that there will be no incentive to support it when it comes to freedom of information laws or shield laws to protect sources -- the kinds of tools needed for journalists to be government watchdogs in our role as the Fourth Estate.

Truth be told, we're already there.

You can follow me on Twitter @viv_bernstein

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