At a graduation speech at Quinnipiac University earlier this month, CBS anchor Scott Pelley said that journalists are "getting the big stories wrong, over and over again."
"In a world where everyone is a publisher, no one is an editor," Pelley charged. "And that is the danger that we face today. We have entered a time when a writer's first idea is his best idea. When the first thing a reporter hears is the first thing that she reports."
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION ON MEDIA MISTAKES:
On the relationship between newsroom cutbacks and errors:
Cynthia Kennard, USC: "Reporters and journalists have a whole new digital tool kit, so to speak, with two-way recorders, Skype, iPhones, cameras, etc. But the cutbacks, I think, in the resources needed to edit, to produce, to have assistance in checking the accuracy of facts in a very fast-moving situation — they have declined immeasurably. And study after study has shown that's the case. It's no excuse for carelessness, it's no excuse for jumping the gun. But we have to put it in context, that this is not the same kind of newsroom, in a lot of ways, that we had even five years ago."
On the scoop mentality:
Jay Rosen, NYU and PressThink: "It's not only getting it right vs. getting it first, an age-old tension about which we cannot really say anything new or interesting. I think it's time journalists realized that their competition to be first — the scoop — fails to distinguish among types of scoops. We need news organizations to be competing to be first about news we don't know, news we wouldn't find out if they didn't dig it up. Whether someone has been arrested in the Boston Marathon is in fact a discovery that's going to come out. It's going to come out very easily, when someone announces it. And being first with news that is about to be announced is an ego scoop. What we need is journalists making more enterprise scoops, scoops we wouldn't have without their digging. The press hasn't quite realized that the ego scoop, being first with something that everybody was eventually going to know anyway, is essentially meaningless except for the inter-press rivalry, the fraternal rivalry among professional peers. And that attitude is costing them."
On CNN's report that a Boston suspect had been arrested:
Rosen: "John King had a confidential source telling him someone had been arrested. Think about that for a second. Why would we learn about an arrest from a confidential source? An arrest is an official act. And the whole idea that there was value in being first on that is the problem. It's not just that somebody made a mistake. It's what you are trying to do in the first place. ...
"For the large organizations that have to cover breaking news, of course they have to be there. But here's another weird thing I don't understand: When CNN is anchoring its coverage of the Watertown chase from the street in Watertown, and three people are on the air constantly, how can those people actually report the story? Why does it help the story for the anchor and the newscast to originate in the street? It seems to me like a stunt."
On the role that media criticism once played:
Trish van Pilsum, investigative and in-depth reporter at FOX9 News: "There used to be TV media reporters at the newspapers who would hold us accountable about our content, accuracy, tone, whether we were doing enough enterprise work, and that doesn't happen anymore. And I think that's a real loss, especially at a time when TV newsrooms are really changing. I'm amazed at the mistakes that some stations make. Stations are changing dramatically, I will watch newscasts that have virtually no news in them. ... I think not to have outsiders noticing that so that viewers can really make smart choices is too bad. We should be absolutely transparent and accountable, but I think it's a loss not to have that outside, objective look at our industry as well."
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STATE OF JOURNALISM:
• Highlights of Scott Pelley's speech