First some background: Before I started working at CFIS as an “on-air personality,” all my media work had been in newspapers and, more specifically, community papers.
I worked at newspapers in High Prairie and Grande Prairie in Alberta, and at Quesnel, Kamloops, Burns Lake, Vanderhoof and Prince George in B.C. In some of those cases there was a daily paper in the same city, so there was competition. There was also usually radio and maybe TV.
There also was, for quite a few years, no real Internet presence for the papers. That meant you usually had more time to work on your stories (although it never was enough time, with your editor breathing down your neck). Working at a community paper, publishing one, two or three times a week, also had another advantage, I discovered.
People didn’t expect you to be first if there was a daily paper in town. Most of your readers knew you couldn’t usually beat the daily in getting the story out, so it was more important to find a different angle, get more facts, and get them right.
Today, the idea behind a lot of media, especially when it comes to getting the story on the Web, is: “Get it first, don’t worry about getting it right”.
That came to the fore again with the deaths of former basketball star Kobe Bryant and eight other people in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
I say eight other people, because that’s what the police reported at a press conference that afternoon. If you had been following the story online, you may have wondered where these other four people came from, because all the media were saying there were five people on board.
I started trying to trace back where the original story about five people came from, and it was virtually impossible. A lot of the stories online simply said there were five people, without quoting any sources for that number.
The ones who did quote a source usually just quoted another media outlet. I sometimes feel that’s the lazy way of doing it. What you’re saying is, “we can’t be bothered trying to get the facts, so we’ll just quote someone else. If it turns out they were wrong, well, it wasn’t our fault they ‘gave’ us the wrong information.”
There are very few reporters in the online world today. There are, however, a lot of parrots.