GRIZ GRIT: Getting it First

By Beacon Staff

The information age has forever changed journalism. But it’s still open to debate whether second-by-second access has improved the way the public obtains its news.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m like the next reporter in that I want to have the story first. I cut my teeth in this business when there was a morning and afternoon paper owned by the same family under the same roof with separate editorial staffs. Good friends would do about anything to keep a story out of the other paper until they had written about it in theirs.

Sure, the morning paper had an advantage after the afternoon paper had gone to press, such as being the first to print game stories.

But there was that point in the evening, after the morning paper had already been set, that everything landed first on the pages of the afternoon paper.

Nothing pleased me more when I was the managing editor at KGVO in Missoula than when I had an important story at 6 a.m. that was nowhere to be found in the morning newspaper – especially if it had occurred during the paper’s news-gathering hours.

In fact, my ability to produce stories that way landed me a job at that same newspaper, but I digress.

It was Walter Cronkite who admonished his CBS-TV reporters they had better get it first, but it was also better to be right.

I fear that in these days of fewer reporters and copy editors and the demand for journalists to tweet and blog in addition to writing hard copy for the next day’s edition, there’s far more importance given to getting the word out than verifying its accuracy. There’s little, if any, second read on those posts.

Maybe they are just more talented than me, but my peers are texting, tweeting, Facebooking and blogging during timeouts and additional times during games when I believe double-checking for accuracy and, Heaven forbid, pondering creativity are more valuable and make for better copy.

There’s even a Big Sky Conference play-by-play guy who solicits e-mails during his simulcast, reads them on the air and comments about them while play is taking place. Of that I’m not a fan.

A prime example occurred with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the NFC Championship game.

The blogosphere immediately filled with prognosticators that basically questioned his fortitude for not continuing in the game after sustaining what later was determined to be a sprained knee ligament.

I’m not sure how a reporter can get enough information by watching how a player walks and reacts on the sidelines. But I know one thing, you will never hear this reporter question a player’s heart or fortitude because I’m simply not qualified to measure either.

Teammates later said Cutler is one of the toughest players on the team, but what prompted the entire fiasco, which almost immediately went viral on the Internet, was the notion that, because of pressure, you have to get the information out there before the next guy.

Last year an unnamed Big Sky Conference radio play-by-play guy was admonished because he glanced at the Grizzly bench and determined a player he described as a senior obviously had quit on his team as he made his way off the court.

He not only had the wrong player and class but also misrepresented what was happening. The player was disgusted with himself because he had just picked up his fourth foul at a key time.

This need to either do something outrageous to be noticed or throw information out for immediate public perusal with little thought is fueled by consumers who believe that they are entitled to such instant information so they can read it while driving 75 mph down the freeway. But that too is for another day.

Get it first but get it right. Walter had it right.