Speed vs. Accuracy

May 2, 2016 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on Speed vs. Accuracy

With access to news becoming easier and faster, it is now becoming more crucial for broadcast reporters to get information to the public in a timely manner—timely, in this case, meaning as fast as possible. News stations want to be the first to report on a story. This goal could potentially lead to inaccurate reporting, which could be seen as unethical if it is not fact. News reports provide a key source of information for society. If that information is not accurate due to increased pressure to report quickly, then that has an affect on how society views those issues reported.

On January 22nd, 2016, I was on my way back from Washington DC on a bus filled with 51 other passengers. We hit a heavy snowstorm and then came across an accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that stopped traffic. We sat on the turnpike for almost 24 hours. While we were there, my bus, and several others, took part in the “Turnpike Mass.”

Students using signs to make the altar out of snow.

Students using signs to make the altar out of snow.

Right before mass started

Right before mass started

Everyone who attended mentioned it on social media using #turnpikemass and the story took off. Several news stations picked up the story, but there were many different versions out there. One said that the 500 people who attended all received communion with the 50 hosts they started with. Another story said that not everyone went to communion. Another said that Fr. Patrick Behm, of Le Mars, came up with the idea for the mass, while another stated it was someone from Minneapolis who arranged it. There were several stories out there all containing contradictory information. This affected many people’s perception of the event. I received several questions regarding the event—many containing inaccurate information or “facts.”

Another example of media accuracy gone wrong is the Sago Mine Disaster of 2006. In this case, there was a devastating mine explosion in Saga, West Virginia. Some media outlets got word that the miners had been found. They immediately reported that miners were found alive. Families and friends that had been waiting to hear news rejoiced when they heard that their loved ones were alive. There is a very interesting recollection of this incident and the feelings of the family members found on NPR. The media’s quick instinct to report the news about the incident led them to report it inaccurately, because there was actually only one survivor out of the 13 miners.

To some degree, this does show how the media influences the public. Consumers hear something from one source and do not continue following up with other information. In a Media Ethics course I am taking, we have discussed this idea. Many students agreed that it is the responsibility of the public to research information further. That is not what is happening, though. This is because, as consumers, it is the public’s expectation that the media be trustworthy and accurate. I am not saying that they aren’t, but the issue of speed vs. accuracy brings that into question.

These exact situations draw attention to the importance of speed vs. accuracy as priorities for media. In an article in the Washington Examiner, Federalist senior editor, Mollie Hemingway, told them:

“Even just 10 years ago, when I was a reporter covering a lot of government reports, even if you got a report at that time, you had at least a few hours to go through it, and now the news cycle is such that everyone’s competing with each other to get things out within a matter of minutes. That is a legitimate challenge because people are desperate for information.”

She said it accurately—this is a challenge. It is not ethical for those providing the public with information to put out news that is not verified as truthful simply to be the first to have the information. This affects the public’s views. They can hear the first story and miss the follow-up correction, if one is put out. Therefore, allowing viewers to be misinformed. This is not ethical.

The solution here would need to be industry-wide: to take on the goal to provide the most accurate information. While this is the majority of reporters’ goal currently, the emphasis to be first is overtaking it.


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