Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Getting it First, but getting it wrong

This is where news goes wrong.

A number of media outlets are reporting that Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American woman to represent Ohio in Congress died today.

And these aren't podunk papers or TV stations who may not know better.

I'm talking CNN. Bloomberg. Shoot, I heard it on NPR.

Here's what Associated Content said: The Associated Press reported that she was discovered slumped over the wheel of her car, apparently after having suffered an aneurysm. As late as 12:30 PM ET, Market Watch quotes her office as reporting that Ms. Tubbs Jones was stable and receiving the best of care. Yet it was The Hill that speculated Stephanie Tubbs Jones would be taken off life support this afternoon. At 2:07 PM ET Politico reported that Tubbs Jones was indeed taken off life support and deceased. Nevertheless, MSNBC now suggest that the news is a bit ahead of life, and Stephanie Tubbs Jones is still very much among the living as of 2:41 PM ET.

In our effort to get it first, we're getting to wrong.

I heard the news in my car (said NPR news update I mentioned earlier) and when I got back to my desk, saw a flurry of e-mails from other journalists looking to confirm the news. So I did what any person of my generation would do -- I googled Tubbs Jones.

My first indication reports of her death had been exaggerated: Wikipedia. I didn't click on the link, but I could clearly see that there was not a date of death in the entry. Hmmm. I searched further.

Google News.

I found maybe 3 stories that said she'd died, right next to stories that (rightly) said she had an aneurysm and was in critical condition with limited brain function. To their credit, I did another search and found that many of the news outlets had taken down the report of Tubbs Jones' death in the scant 15 minutes I spent searching. I did still find one article from CBS News that confirmed her death.

So in my final act to confirm, I went to the only source I know I can trust: the local paper. I figured if anybody got it right, or would be willing to correct the error, it would be the paper that Tubbs Jones reads every day herself.

From the Cleveland Plain-Dealer:

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African-American woman to represent Ohio in Congress, is in critical condition after suffering a burst aneurysm last night, officials said this afternoon.

Officials updated her condition this afternoon after conflicting reports that the congresswoman was dead. Numerous media outlets - including The Plain Dealer on its Web site, CNN and the Associated Press - reported that Tubbs Jones had died.

But that was as of 3:30 p.m.

Send up a few prayers for Tubbs Jones. And let's pray we get the story right next time.

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Posted by T Dot at 3:22 PM | link

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