Friday, May 07, 2010

The Story vs. The Facts

Do media need to get the facts right or just the story?

There is a difference. If you tell me that two plus two equals five and I report that, I have reported the story correctly but I have reported the fact incorrectly.

Is that OK? Should we be happy to get the story straight, even if its information is wrong? The news director at WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh seems to think so.

Last Friday, the WPXI reported that former Pittsburgh Steelers player Santonio Holmes was escorted off a commercial flight at Pittsburgh International Airport. Turns out that Holmes was not escorted off the plane. He was merely admonished for not turning off his iPod prior to landing. He left the plane with the rest of the passengers.

The station later updated its story without clarifying that its earlier report was untrue.

"The story changed and we changed it," WPXI news director Mike Goldrick told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We didn't feel like we needed to correct it because we don't feel like it was wrong. The story we got, we reported, and when the story changed we reported it."

"The information we had at the time was right. The information changed," Goldrick said.

I guess that depends on what the definition of information is. The facts the station had at the time were wrong. The facts didn't change. Holmes was either escorted off the plane or he wasn't. Unless there were two separate flights, Holmes was not escorted off the plane earlier in the day and left it on his own later.

It happened only one way. If you reported something else, you got it wrong, no matter how accurately you reported the story you heard.

Now that the news cycle is no longer 24-hours but second-to-second, we can expect a lot of stories to change as first reports increasingly become less factual. As getting it first takes more priority over getting it right, people will become more skeptical of media reports. They'll need, like reporters once did, independent confirmation from another source before they'll believe what they see, hear or read.

When that happens, what will separate the mainstream media from ordinary bloggers?

1 comment:

Ike said...

"What will separate the mainstream media from ordinary bloggers?"

Not very much.