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Better to be correct than first

Just wanted to share a good editorial from our sister paper in Lebanon on the embarrassing, premature reports of Joe Paterno’s death. Check it out after the jump.

In the last month or so, opinion page editors for the Pennsylvania newspapers owned by MediaNews and the Journal Register Co. have teamed up to create a regional opinion content sharing collective. It allows us to quickly and easily share editorials, columns and even cartoons or graphics that would have regional or statewide interest. Kind of like our own company wire.

I’ve been impressed with the work from my colleagues at other properties. We don’t always have room to use their work in our print edition, but I’ll be posting more of those pieces on the YDR.com opinion page in the days ahead.

Editorial by the Lebanon Daily News:

Right, not first

Joe Paterno, the man, is gone. His life and his legacy will be the subject of intense discussion throughout this week.
On the topic of legacy, we believe that, in time, the focus will return primarily to his accomplishments on the football field, in raising a central Pennsylvania land-grant university to one of the leading lights in the world of college football.

There will always, however, be a“but” lurking somewhere within that discussion, even if it is unspoken. Those who have followed the story even remotely know what that “but” is all about, and the fallout from the allegations
against Jerry Sandusky will play out in the coming months in the court system.

Penn State and Paterno will continue to be a focus — for the wrong reasons.

What we want to focus on is the terrible error that was made Saturday within the media fraternity, when news of his death was erroneously reported.

Being first in an online world has devolved to mean taking chances, to making assumptions, to guessing, to inferring, to doing all the things that those of use who pre-date such media platforms learned that one must never do.

We cannot assume; we cannot infer; we cannot guess. We need our information from trusted, known sources, preferably more than one, and the information must be compiled, organized and presented in a manner that is fair to those about whom it is.

It was terribly unfair for the Paterno family to have to deal with early and inaccurate reports of Joe Paterno’s death while they were spending what they knew were their final hours with him in this world.

Just because the tools have become faster, just because the world has become closer, just because there are so many more toys with which we can play to do our jobs, that doesn’t mean that the core of that job is defined any differently.

Being first? In this age, being first is measured by seconds. For a story of this magnitude and with this finality — a death — being first is much less important than being right.
We have experienced, intelligent journalists in this newsroom, and we did not pass on the inaccurate news of Paterno’s death. We followed our rules, long ingrained in us, to be sure, to do what is very difficult for anyone — to wait.

We do not believe our coverage suffered because of our decision. On the other hand, should we have leapt ahead with others in falsely reporting his death, we would have done a disservice to him, his family, our readers and our reputation as a media organization.

We strive to be correct and accurate in what we report. It’s true that some of the things we report are viewed as erroneous, but in many cases that reporting involves passing along the statements and opinions of others; we can’t change what people think when we report upon it.

We can only report upon it. It is for spaces like this, for pages like this, in which to relate and share opinions — ours and others — not in the news pages.

With a story like this, in a couple days no one will remember who first reported it — if the report was accurate. Conversely, memories of an inaccurate first report will linger and do damage to the credibility of the offending organization, and without credibility a media outlet is fatally weakened.

Our job is to report. Our job is to report as quickly as we can with the tools we have at our disposal. But no tool is more important, no timeframe is more significant than the accuracy of the reporting.

We can’t expect to tell the whole story quickly, but that information we present should be as complete as possible — and accurate based on information provided by trusted sources.

The damage that media can do by not remembering its first commandment — to report completely and accurately — far outweighs the laurels we might receive from making a lucky guess.

Don’t guess. Know. Until that statement is fulfilled, don’t publish, on any platform, even at the risk of not being first. Being first is never better than being right. Those times when we can be both are wonderful but rare, and in the Paterno case, the race became about being first, rather than being right.

That is always wrong.