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Thanks for the lesson, CNN

Published: Thursday, April 18, 2013 11:30 a.m. CDT

“I’ve made a huge mistake.”

Whether you’re a fan of Arrested Development (if you’re not, you should be), you’ve probably experienced a similar gut-wrenching feeling.

For me, it goes a little like this: It’s 10:30 a.m., the paper has already been sent to the press, and as I flip through my notes, I realize something isn’t quite right.

Maybe I spelled that last name wrong or added an extra zero to the end of that figure. Aside from running a correction in tomorrow’s edition, there’s nothing I can do. Every subscriber to the Newton Daily News is about to see my mistake.

Thankfully, with each member of our newsroom serving as a copy editor in addition to reporting and laying out the paper, this doesn’t happen too often. When it does, though, it has the potential to ruin my entire day.

Somehow, throughout my entire undergrad, I failed to realize the very essence of journalism is that people, be it hundreds or hundreds of thousands, will not only see, but critique, your work every single day. While I love the profession, I won’t hesitate to admit that the notion creates quite a bit of stress.

From that perspective, I can’t come close to fathoming what it must have felt like to break the (completely false) news yesterday that there had been an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.

CNN first broke the news Wednesday morning, with many other reputable news sources following suit, citing CNN as their main source. In fact, the Boston Police Department was nearly the only organization refuting the claim.

This helps present the pickle we sometimes face as journalists. While nothing that qualifies as nationally breaking news has happened during my tenure in Newton (knock on wood), when these events do occur, we strive to release as much information as we can to the public while maintaining that the informaton is correct.

This is where CNN erred yesterday. In the race to be the first to break a news item — which is perhaps a more competitive aspect of cable news than you might expect — someone at CNN dropped the ball and embarrassed an entire organization.

Conversely, and perhaps as a result of CNN’s error, I found reporting on last night’s exploson in West, Texas (which occured, unfortunately, on a much larger scale than the incident in Boston), to be much more conservative and contingent upon verified facts rather than the theories of talking heads on cable news.

While I realize my errors will likely never be recognized on the scale that CNN’s was, it’s made me step back and take a lot closer look at my work. Despite size — be it a national news program or a seven-man operation like we have here at the Daily News — newsrooms are built on integrity and reputation.

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