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Public editor: The rush to be first when the aim should be accuracy

On Saturday I wrote about how the media is doing better in finding the balance between being unflinching in showing and telling you the horrors of a tragedy such as the Boston bombings, and striving to remember the victims and to be sensitive to those who become caught up in great pain and sorrow.

A few people disagreed saying the media is doing a terrible job of passing on bits of inaccurate information as gospel and putting the push to be first or the only one to have an angle to the story. And of course that is a strong motivation. All media, bloggers, television, news websites want to be the one to be quoted, to be recognized as having exclusive, insightful information. In this competitive business, mistakes are made, information is not checked as it should be in that rush of breaking news. And there were some terrible mistakes, the worst being the New York Post which ran a front page photo of two men described as "Bag Men" and saying a Saudi man was a likely suspect. Globe media writer, Steve Ladurantaye wrote about this last Thursday.

Another surfaced Friday with a Fox TV station closed captioning suggest actress Zooey Deschanel was a suspect .

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Unlike the New York Post, which said it was standing by its story, the quality news outlets correct their errors. And in many news sites, blogs and electronic media, there was excellent, responsible, smart work done to explain.

Other readers wrote about that balance and several said the media does harm. Here's a sampling of the emails I received:

"No, the media in general, nor the Globe And Mail are getting better at finding the right balance.

Too many pictures of people affected by devastating events are published without the consent of those people just so the particular media involved can create a sensational image. The person crying, injured, in distress, etc.

As for the media having done no harm, there is not only the incident you mention committed by the New York Post, which you categorize as a mistake and I categorize as negligence, the media stated that arrests had been made in relation to the Boston Marathon bombing when no such thing was true. CNN produced and identified by brand name and country of origin, a pressure cooker. Showing it on camera showing how it works, then said it cannot be confirmed as the same brand that the bombers use. How do you think this stunt affected the reputation of that pressure cooker company?

In this bombing case in Boston, all the media outlets used "experts", in quotation for a reason, who don't know what was going on, did not have the facts, but were still permitted to give their opinions as if they knew it all."

"The media are too anxious to make a story exciting that they too often refuse to confirm information before reporting it or refuse to consider the agenda of the source and how that might affect the credibility of the source. And often refuse to report all the facts so they can slant the story. While I generally agree with you with respect to the print media , I do not feel the same for television media Their manic obsession to be first with new developments in reporting any event is absolutely unnecessary , of no benefit to the viewer and seems to take the attitude that factual accuracy is immaterial … To me, the events of Newtown , Boston, Rehtaeh Parsons and any other " breaking news " event reinforce the message that for television news at least , sensationalism trumps everything , including the truth."

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"The Globe and Mail's reporting of tragic and sensitive issues stands alone in balance and content. Nevertheless, the press generally does an overall good job in their presentation of sometimes horrendous events. That would not be true of the shallow and often sensational reporting of the Television media."

If you have any thoughts on this or any other issue about The Globe and Mail, please email me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com .

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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