Thursday, August 1, 2013

More on news in an instant, and a correction

I am spending a lot of time these days thinking about what goes into this job, the decisions I make every day, and the speed at which I and everyone in this business is making them.

What brings me to this point once again is a mistake I made yesterday in posting material online shortly after we got reports of a police-involved shooting in Chester.

Rose Quinn, the reporter working the story, headed for the scene and immediately started feeding me information. First we confirmed that a shooting had taken place. I immediately sent a text alert, tweeted the news and posted the breaking situation on our Facebook page. I assured readers as we routinely do that we would deliver more information as we got it. That's what we do these days when it comes to breaking news. We often deliver it to our readers in real time. When we get it confirmed, they get it soon after.

The reporter quickly confirmed this was a police-involved shooting, and I quickly made a new round of alerts and posts via social media.

After another conversation with the reporter, I put together a quick breaking news item to post on our website, DelcoTimes.com. In the process, however, I made a serious error. Basically it was a typo. I indicated that the officer had been shot three times, when clearly it was the officer who had shot the suspect three times. The hedline was correct, but a very important fact in the story got mangled.

There's no real excuse for the error - which was mine, not that of the reporter who was working the story. But as is usually the case, it's the reporter who started to hear it from people who noticed the mistake online. It's something that happens to reporters all too often, just as they always get grief for the headlines that appear on their stories both in print and online. They don't write them, but they are the ones who hear about it when someone doesn't like them, or they're just flat-out wrong.

We quickly corrected the story that appeared online, in the process once again reminding me of my favorite thing about the Internet, a couple of keystrokes and the error is corrected.

But we still had a problem. Our mobile app, where more and more people access our content, pulls in information from our website. But once it's on the mobile site, we are at the mercy of the tech gods, we don't have access to change that information. It's a serious problem and one we're working to correct. So that mistaken bit of information stayed on our app a lot longer than it should have.

I'd like to apologize for the the error in the story, to the police who were involved, any of their loved ones who may have been given the wrong impression, to our readers, and also to the reporter who was working that story who was getting an earful for something that was not her fault.

A lot of things about this job are changing these days. Not the least of which is the speed we are now able to deliver news. Some days I almost feel like Karl Wallenda around here. Working online a lot of time is like being on a tightrope without a net. The item I posted yesterday did not get seen by anyone else before it went online, an easy check that no doubt would have caught that silly -but very serious - error.

There's an old saying: Speed kills. In my rush to get information out to readers yesterday, I killed a little bit of our credibility with readers who are left to question why we could not get that simple fact correct.

We are quickly adapting a whole new set of skills as we delve into any and all new technologies in delivering the news.

But there remains one overriding maxim we will continue to strive to achieve. Get it right. That still comes before getting it first.

I was reminded of that again yesterday.

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