Write enough scoops, and a competitor’s bound to follow you without proper credit at some point, if not repeatedly. Often because they’re too embarrassed to admit defeat.
But what happens when the second report is a prominent national news outlet, and the scooper is an otherwise obscure community website?
It’s important to note that Onward State’s first report came via Twitter, not on its website. (The staff would later delete the tweet.) CBS, however, wrote up a post, elevating the false report in a way OS never could.
Things got sticky when New York Times reporter Mark Viera tweeted that Paterno was still alive, according to a family spokesperson.
Jay and Scott Paterno, Joe’s two sons, also tweeted that dad was still alive. Scott even called out CBS.
Now the national news giant was forced to run a corrected tweet and update its post. A funny thing happened, though, when CBS posted its updates: Onward State was blamed. Gaffe No. 2.
“Paterno family spokesman denies
@OnwardState report that Joe Paterno has passed,” the tweet read.
And in the article: “Penn State student website Onward State has reported that Penn State players were notified of longtime head coach Joe Paterno’s passing via email, and CBSSports.com went on this report. … Onward State has since retracted their report.”
In over its head with exposure, Onward State also fumbled its correction.
At 9:09 p.m. “A Paterno family spokesman has denied our initial report, which was corroborated by multiple sources. We’re working on finding out more.”
At 9:29 p.m., in consecutive tweets: “To OS followers: Our 8:45 p.m. tweet about Joe Paterno’s death appears to be inaccurate, according to @JayPaterno, who says he’s alive. (1/2) // We were confident when we ran with it, and are still trying to figure out where our process failed. We apologize sincerely for the error. (2/2)”
Even former managing editor Devon Edwards’ resignation letter fell short (though he did still benefit). Edwards said he never expected to be in the national spotlight – a very poor excuse – and that the race to be first sometimes interferes with being correct – no it doesn’t. Ever.
Back to CBS, though, the holier than thou media outlet that turned the false report into a national fiasco. Mark Swanson finally posted an apology at 11:53 p.m. Saturday, wherein the company did not blame Onward State. Here is the accompanying tweet:
The question is, what took so long? Onward State owned its mistake, however awkwardly, without delay. The staff would later give a full explanation. They owned up.
CBS’s staff hid behind Onward State’s mistake to explain its own, then buried a two-paragraph apology and tweet almost simultaneously around midnight. The apology link has not been tweeted since. You know, at a time other than 12:29 a.m. Sunday when there are so many people on Twitter.
But why were they caught? Their vigilant readers, of course:
Onward State is a student-run website, apparently started out of a dorm a few years ago. For the contributors who want a career in journalism, CBS is supposed to be a company for which they can aspire to work. A national giant with a gold standard.
Sad to see the fight to be first outweighed the priority to be correct, and that a prominent news company was willing to throw “the little guy” under the bus because of it.