Public Editor

Don’t disseminate bad info

Last week in the wake of all the sketchy “information” emerging during the search for suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, I wrote: “I’ve long believed nobody really cares which source gets it first, but readers sure do remember which ones got it wrong.”

Well, reader Tim Shipley had a slightly different point of view, and I think he’s spot on:

I think you’re close. I think you’re right that people don’t care who is first. (But boy, the news sources sure think they do!) But I think they quickly forget which source was wrong. What they remember is the information that was wrong, and they continue to think it’s correct. News sources never, that I can remember, make a big a headline correcting their original misinformation. They just make a new big headline with the new information. Meanwhile, people suffer damage to reputations, and sometimes even physical attacks.

Witness the high school student whose name was picked up from a police scanner as a “suspect.” The kid is afraid to leave his house!

What is a news source’s responsibility when this happens? It seems that a 1 or 2 line “correction” buried on an inside page somewhere really doesn’t help.

The question of how to correct such a fundamental error is individual to the source, but I agree that if it were something huge, a correction on Page A2 or A3 doesn’t carry anything near the same weight as a front-page story or photo.