Despite what many Canadian and U.S. press outlets said Thursday, singer Gordon Lightfoot is very much alive. What’s dead, apparently, is fundamental journalism practices.
Upon learning that rumours of Gordon Lightfoot’s death had been greatly exaggerated, most media sites pulled down their stories, but failed to leave a correction in place. The main spinning reaction blamed a Twitter prank for the misunderstanding. Maybe this is what started it, but placing the blame there is a cowardly act of misdirection.
In my journalism classes, the top two rules I learned were:
- Rule #1: Always verify something with a reliable source before publishing.
- Rule #2: When in doubt, see Rule #1.
This is where the media failed. In a culture where getting it first trumps getting it right, too many media outlets follow the fallacy that if it’s on the Internet, it must be true. Forget how unreliable or unverified the source may be, the last thing they’d want is to miss out on something else the world is reporting. But haste, as the old saying goes, makes waste.
As the CBC’s Sarah Liss, who copped to helping spread the word informally but not via her news outlet, accurately summarized:
… you could argue that the real problem may have something to do with the eagerness of mainstream media outlets to compete with social media networks and be seen as the first to post breaking news stores. As Toronto-based social media ace Justin Stayshyn rightly noted, “Twitter just spread it. Rumour began in the hallowed halls of dead tree MSM [mainstream media] journalism.”
Personally, I’m quite relieved to know that the Canadian icon has not seen his final sundown. But that journalism standards have sunk as low as the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald should concern us all.