Being First and Being Wrong

The race to be the first news media, blogger, or twitterer to report the news continued apace last Saturday as writers scrambled to report the death of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. Likewise, publishing stories without taking the time to check the facts, while trying to scoop others, remained a reality among some of those running the race.

What did NBC News really prove by being the first to report that Armstrong had died, especially when it reported exceptionally wrong information?

NBC News announced the story ahead of everyone else—but it did so with an incorrect headline on its website, reporting that Astronaut Neil Young had died. Neil Young, of course, is a famous rock singer, songwriter, and guitar player, who had a hit album/CD and single called “Harvest Moon,” in the early 1990s. But he never walked on the moon. And at 66, he’s still going strong on earth, touring this fall with his on-again, off-again band Crazy Horse.

It has always seemed to me that accuracy should be the most important goal of any nonfiction writer, whether he/she is covering the news or writing for any other public outlet. Perhaps being first meant something a few years ago when a writer or news outlet could gain hours or days on others trying to gather the news. Today, though, coming in first in this false race of rapid news reporting proves nothing when the best you can do is beat your competitors—many of whom probably are not actually participating in the race with you—by a few minutes, at best, and when what you report is wrong.

Being first should always take a backseat to being correct.

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