Student guest post: Student newspaper covered murder-suicide wisely

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guests posts for this blog this semester. This is the fifth of those posts. Chris Haney is a senior journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill specializing in reporting. He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. He enjoys sports, writing and traveling to anywhere he hasn’t been yet.

There may be many aspects of an editor-in-chief’s job that seem attractive, but making judgment calls on the fly during times of crisis is not enviable.

Every media outlet wants to be the first to break news to the public. This isn’t a new trend that has just surfaced in the era of news coverage driven by social media. No, this rush to be first has been a cornerstone of the media for decades, if not centuries in some form.

Yet what is the true value of being first if a story isn’t covered properly and mistakes are made by rushing to print? Much more can be lost than gained by rushing a story if there are inaccuracies of any kind.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, there was a murder-suicide on the University of South Carolina’s campus that was reported around 1 p.m. Rumors spread quickly of what happened and who was involved.

By late Thursday evening, there were still no confirmed reports of the individuals involved or the cause of the incident.The Daily Gamecock – USC’s campus newspaper – didn’t give in to rushing out information that wasn’t confirmed yet for their Friday edition. It may seem like an easy decision to avoid hearsay. But Editor-in-Chief Hannah Jeffrey made a bold and correct decision to only print confirmed details, even if that meant that readers would get their updates from other sources first throughout the weekend.

Jeffrey penned an editor’s letter in that Friday edition that spoke to her reasoning behind her decisions. She was candid and honest. She canceled every other story they had to focus on the incident, but wasn’t going to risk the journalistic integrity and accuracy of the newspaper just to get in on the name-dropping the next morning.

“The Daily Gamecock will not risk credibility in the hopes of being first because tragedy isn’t a time to be wrong,” Jeffrey ended her letter. “In fact, errors in reporting tragedy can result in confusion and devastation. And in the end, tragedy is hard enough on its own.”

There are sadly many media outlets today that could learn from this wait-and-see approach.

Well said and well done, Ms. Jeffrey.