Paterno death shows issues with social media

Published by adviser, Author: Tim Durr - Sports Editor, Date: January 27, 2012
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The recent death of former Pennsylvania State University head football coach, Joe Paterno, brought up several thoughts in my head.

None specifically about his life or the recent scandal that surrounded him and forced him out of Penn State, but the way the news was released.

Many of you may have read about the false report that was released by “Onward State,” which is a community journalism group at Penn State.

For those of you that haven’t heard about it, “Onward State” prematurely reported that Paterno died several hours before his actual death.

The managing editor posted a tweet saying that Paterno died and the news spread rapidly. Organizations and people from CBS Sports to Anderson Cooper reposted and retweeted that Paterno was dead.

In a matter of 45 minutes, the story came full circle and it was revealed that Paterno wasn’t actually dead.

The next morning Paterno did die and from an overall sports fan’s view, it’s a terrible loss for college football and sports in general – but that isn’t the main purpose of this piece.

The main purpose is to consider how sports reporters and news reporters in general seem to be giving accuracy a backseat and focusing on immediacy over actually having the correct facts to report.

Adding to the idea of immediacy is the use of the mediums that we receive much of this information through.

Many of the breaking news stories that have occurred over the past several months had the news broken via Twitter or some other social media.

This use of social media is especially expansive in sports lately, as you can follow pretty much every professional athlete and have the capability of having conversations with some of them on Twitter.

Many popular stories have broken on Twitter and some stories have even been caused because of Twitter.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 for criticizing NBA officials on the site.

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson was traded after he made comments criticizing the head coach on Twitter. Many other tweets have led to major stories, as well.

With this new medium becoming a huge part of mainstream sports news, journalists and fans must look at both the pros and cons of this usage.

One of the main pros of Twitter, and the Internet in general, is the immediacy that information can be released.

I’ve watched ESPN and SportsCenter many times in the past few months and have seen athletes quoted directly from Twitter on their thoughts after a game, updates of their injury status and many other things.

Quoting someone from Twitter is a rather unorthodox way to go about gathering quotes and information from stories, but the influence of social media has completely changed the way that journalism is now reported.

The main concern that I have with journalists using Twitter to quickly release or gain information is that anyone can post anything on these sites, and you must do some footwork yourself to truly check if the information is valid and sound.

Without thoroughly checking your sources, we end up in a situation similar to the one with Joe Paterno’s death being prematurely spread over Twitter and the Internet.

The Internet and social media are great ways to gather information, but the ultimate goal of journalism is to check your sources and make sure that you release accurate information for all of your readers.

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