It was just last week that we lost one of the all-time great rock and roll singer/songwriters of a certain generation when Tom Petty passed away. A stunner to say the least. It came out of left field. But that’s not the point of this story.
On that day it was with a heavy heart that I reported Tom’s passing to my community of listeners, those who trust that I will, without question, give them the unvarnished truth. Only on that day, I misplaced my trust in others. And boy did I get bit in the a**. How many times have I said, “It’s much more important to be right than first” when it comes to reporting the news? How many?
The bloody news people are in such an all fired up hurry to be the first to report something they’ve forgotten about the first rule of journalism. Journalism thrives on the factual. As such, it can be fairly said that the single most important rule or mantra is to ensure the accuracy of the facts one is conveying to so many people. Pretty simple, eh? In other words, there’s no point in coming in first if you’re wrong. The day Tom Petty passed is a prime example of that.
Monday, October 2nd, 15:50’ish, I saw on TMZ’s twitter feed that Tom Petty passed away at the age of 66. So, like a responsible broadcaster, I knew I needed multiple sources before I went live with the news on the air. Next thing I did was check that against other mainstream news sources. CBS News, AP News, and Rolling Stone all confirmed the TMZ story. Then, just to go one final step further, I met with my colleagues at sister station Cool 101.3. Yes, they had the same facts from mainstream sources.
Damn! Tom Petty is dead. I hate to be the guy that tells people bad news like that but it had to be shared and it’s my responsibility, my job, to share it with my audience. So report it I did, sadly, throughout the afternoon, even sharing some of my favorite Tom Petty songs.
Fast forward to post show. Moments after my show was over I’m getting other reports that Tom may still be alive. What? Those other mainstream sources were retracting their stories, including CBS & TMZ. WTF? Does anybody know what’s going on? Is Tom still alive? Has Tom passed? Is this all a bad dream? Is this all just a sorry ass hoax? I received no word whatsoever.
How does something like that happen, you ask? Simple. Journalism integrity has left the building, doubtful to ever return. Everyone is in such a god blessed hurry to be the first to report on something that they skip that whole thing they learned in journalism school about it being “much more important to be right than first”.
We used to make fun of people who did things like this. After all, how can you possibly consider yourself to be a trusted news source when you can’t even get the crux of the story right … in this case whether the man is alive or dead?
I was so angry. Angry for his family. Angry for my audience. Angry for ME. It’s an awesome responsibility to accurately relate information. People trust me as a reliable and accurate broadcaster. It’s something I’ve been involved with and have taken very seriously for my entire adult life. So when something like this happens, I feel very deeply and take it very personally.
In a day when folks feel they can’t trust news reporting from anyone, anywhere, it’s of the utmost importance to get it right. Me included. R.I.P. Tommy Boy.
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