100 articles – ‘From breaking news to baseless speculation’

13 October 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘From Breaking News to Baseless Speculation’ by Craig Silverman

As with the embarrassing Obama/Osama mix-up, some journalists rushed so recklessly to conclusions about the Norway shootings in July 2011 that incorrect statements were published without any verification. A few news organisations initially claimed the massacre was the work of a jihadist terrorist group, including The Wall Street Journal, which later removed the evidence of its error and attributed the mistake to their sources. The British tabloid The Sun even went as far as publishing the headline ‘Al Qaeda Massacre: Norway’s 9/11’.

This Columbia Journalism Review article is by Craig Silverman, whose own website Regret The Error  is dedicated to identifying media mistakes. He asks why ‘so many of us in the press push forward with baseless speculation in the face of breaking news?’

Silverman goes on to offer suggest that several factors are at play, including recent history, lack of information, competitive drive and the need to ‘feed the beast’.

But for journalists it’s never acceptable to make claims or accusations that you can’t prove. As Silverman puts it: ‘The public are more likely to remember who screwed up rather than who got the scoop.’

Journalists should remember that if you can’t verify it, then don’t say it.

Laura Carroll is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter: @laura_carroll

See the full ‘100 articles’ list  here.

Find out more about Regret the Error in this upstart profile of the site.