Twitter Killed Cher, Jackie Chan, Adele and Demi in one Weekend

A week after the debacle that prematurely killed Joe Paterno on Twiiter, we log in to find Twitter followers are trending #RIP JackieChan #RIP Cher #RIP Adele and #RIP Demi.  The hashtag #RIP Justin Bieber is a constant.)   I collected some samples.


This is a great time to remind ourselves about the unreliability of Twitter as a primary source and to balance the competing values of speed and accuracy.  As wrote this week, speed is almost never the most important thing. In fact, long-term, it has little value.

I offer these Social Media ethics guidelines that I helped write for RTDNA. 



Paterno is Dead–NO–Wait he is Alive. News Sites Get it Wrong

Here we go again, another story that got rolling on Twitter, picked up steam, never got verified and turned out to be wrong.  Joe Paterno did not die Saturday afternoon.  How did this giant screw-up happen and what should journalists learn from it?

See the story from Poynter.

The managing editor of OnWard State the Penn State student blog, resigned over the false tweets:  read the letter to readers.

The Amazing Call Ordering the Cruise Ship Captain Back on Board

The BCC offers us this sound and translation of the ill-fated cruise ship liner’s captain who abandoned ship.  You will hear Italian officials ordering him back on board and you will hear the captain resist, saying it is dark and that he is coordinating efforts on land.

Question for Journalists:

-What do we know and what do we need to know in order to use this video fairly?

I would say we need to know if the audio is true, what the protocols are in such an event,  whether it is common for these kinds of calls to be recorded, whether the audio was edited.

What motivation might the government official have to record this audio and to release it?

How accurate is the tone of the translation compared to how the characters actually sounded? Remember, this is a dramatic translation. How would the content be different if you just read the translation rather than hearing this version of it?

Finding Stories All Around You

Look at these stories that won 2012 Alfred duPont Awards, considered my many, myself included, to be the most prestigious journalism awards in broadcasting. (disclosure, I am a juror for the awards.)

These two winners have something in common.  The journalists found the stories by talking to colleagues.  That is often how journalism unfolds, one tip leads to another and a story emerges.  The lesson here is clear, listen to everyone.

WSB Atlanta exposed the scam of people making false claims on property by claiming “soverignty.” Cops didn’t understand the claim and were taking forever to get to the bottom of it. Reporter Jodie Fleischer  spent a month following a paper trail of deeds and records to reveal how a group of so-called “sovereign citizens” were acting in concert to file fraudulent paperwork and take ownership of homes that were in foreclosure. The reporter and the station stayed on top of the story as it spread throughout Georgia.  The investigation relied on volumes of paperwork, affidavits and promissory notes, and it led to more than a dozen arrests.

The New York City Triangle fire was one of America’s great tragic events. 100 years later, an HBO documentary producer heard an associate say a relative may have been a victim in the fire. Listen to how the story unfolded.

Original Story: “Triangle: Remembering the Fire” website

Video | Behind the Story: Triangle : A Cautionary Remembrance of the “Gilded Age”

WTVF Nashville won a duPont after police officers tipped him off that other cops were shaking down drivers on the interstate. How often does that happen, cops telling on other cops? The case focused on seizure laws that reward police departments for stopping people even if there is no real reason to do so.

Pay attention to how the station used its helicopter to tell the story. It is the second time Williams and WTVF effectively used a helicopter in an big investigative story. The other involved the WTVF crew following judges who were out running errands rather than sitting on the bench and hearing cases.

I also recommend you take some time to look at this story from WFAA’s Byron Harris, one of local broadcasting’s most celebrated investigative journalists.

WFAA-TV, Dallas & Byron Harris
“Bitter Lessons”

An outstanding investigative series that uncovered fraudulent practices at unregulated for-profit trade schools in Texas

This nine-part investigative series uncovered a lack of state oversight and rampant fraud in student recruitment, job placement and recordkeeping at local for-profit career schools. Reporter Byron Harris and producer Mark Smith methodically showed how schools falsify job placement and employment records to remain tapped into the lucrative federal student loan system. The reporters also detailed how unscrupulous school recruiters gained access to parolees, probation departments and homeless shelters. Students were left with worthless degrees, few job prospects and debt. WFAA-TV obtained placement and employment records that ultimately prompted a federal probe and initiated tighter state regulations.

Byron Harris, reporter; Mark Smith, producer; Billy Bryant, editor, photographer;
Michael Valentine, executive news directorOriginal Story: “Bitter Lessons”

19 Year old Works on a Cure for Cancer

When I teach college and high school aged writers, they love to see stories about people who are their age.  So here is a really nice piece by CBS’ Steve Hartman and my buddy photojournalist Les Rose.  It is a simple no frills kind of piece that has some very nice teaching points that I will list at the bottom of the photo below:


-Steve does not get hung up in the girl’s ethnicity. It is not about her “Chinese-ness” it is about her drive.

-The bookending of her lust for shoes makes her human and normal

-Steve is the ”everyday guy” in the story, not pretending to know more than any of the rest of us about medicine or science.  It makes the subject’s expertise even more impressive.

-The story does not overstate the probability that this will work a as a cure. These kinds of things are never as simple as that. So the piece is honest.

Excellent Local Investigative Reporting

Take a look at this investigation by the Sarasota Herald Tribune in Sarasota, Florida. The small paper uncovered a broken police review system that allows bad cops, even those with repeated complaints in their files about violence, to stay on the job.

I especially appreciate how the stories rely on public records, rather than unnamed sources, to prove the cases.


From (an investigative journalism organization):

It was an unbelievable record for anyone, let alone a public employee. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that one Opa-Locka, Fla., officer had been:

“Fired five times and arrested three, he was charged with stealing a car, trying to board an airplane with a loaded gun and driving with a suspended license.…(He) split a man’s lip with a head butt. He opened another man’s head with a leg sweep and takedown. He spit in the face of a drunken, stumbling arrestee. One time, he smacked a juvenile so hard the boy’s face was red and swollen the next day.”

Still, the officer kept his badge.

The story lead off “Unfit for Duty,” a nine-part series, reported by investigations editor Matthew Doig and police reporter Anthony Cormier. The series chronicled how law enforcement agencies throughout the state continued to employ officers with severe misconduct charges. The two did dozens of interviews and gathered more than 12,000 pages of documents for the series. The first step in their reporting was to analyze Florida’s police misconduct database, which the state keeps in a Microsoft Access database. Doig and Cormier got the data through a public records request. They weren’t charged for the data and Doig called it “some of the cleanest data” he has ever worked with. They requested the data twice, first in March when their reporting started and again shortly before publication to have the most up-to-date information in the newspaper’s searchable online database.

Doig explained during an interview with IRE the thought process behind the series and the techniques he and Cormier used to report it out.