Don’t be too quick to tweet

By Sarah Wojcik

“RT @nprnews: BREAKING: Rep. Giffords (D-AZ), 6 others killed by gunman in Tucson.”

This premature tweet was sent out by numerous news outlets Saturday.

Not only did 21-year-old Jared Lee Loughner unsuccessfully attempt to assassinate Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford at a local supermarket, but inaccurate reporting of her apparent death also consumed the Internet — Twitter newsfeeds, in particular — like wildfire.

I find it both surprising and disheartening that news organizations could fall prey to such widespread folly in this day and age.

With the raging advancement of technology in the last decade and the fine-tuning of journalistic excellence, it’s a pity that a race to break the story robbed the story of its integrity.

To cite a historical example of proper reporting in 1963, CNN famously interrupted national television broadcasts to alert viewers that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

Journalist Walter Cronkite repeatedly stressed that his death was unconfirmed until 38 minutes later, when the TV station received news from the coroner.

Among the first to tweet the inaccurate news were Reuters, BreakingNews, NPR, BBC and CNN, according to

The news organizations gained their information from two sources deemed credible — someone from the Pima County Sheriff’s Office and someone from a congressional office, according to Andy Carvin, who manages the

@nprnews Twitter account.

However, neither source was a coroner and therefore did not have the proper authority to pass official information onto news organizations.

When JFK was assassinated, the carnage was far greater than in the case of Gabrielle Gifford, yet CNN still waited until the official report was issued by a medical professional.

NPR left the tweet, corrected their mistake and issued a public apology.

CNN, however, deleted the Tweet and made no effort to reconcile their mistake.

Other news organizations should follow NPR’s lead to acknowledge their wrongs and make speedy corrections, as well as apologize for the unacceptable breach in trust.

In an age when everything is immediate, from credit card purchases to fast food orders to news websites, people are acclimated to instant gratification and patience levels are on the decline.

If only the news organizations had waited for an official statement, much embarrassment, strife and disrespect could have been avoided.

The simple addition of attribution or uncertainty also could have steered the situation clear of rough waters.

Hopefully a lesson has been learned and past attention to ethics will keep future Twitter reports in line.