Breaking news, it’s the Achilles Heel of print journalism…
Yesterday’s Joplin tornado dissaster was a news nightmare for Kansas City’s paper of record.
For all newspapers, really.
And not just because locals who still prefer to fish their news from their driveways each day were the last to know. Oh, that’s part of it.
But not only are newspaper readers the last informed, they’re often both the least and most ill-informed.
Take the Star’s money quote / headline from the story in today’s paper, "Joplin Shredded."
" ‘I would say 75 percent of the town is virtually gone,’ Kathy Dennis of the American Red Cross told CNN."
What’s wrong with this picture?
Well, for starters the skelton newroom staff the Star fields on weekends was doing little more than watching TV and repackaging it for readers. How valuable is that to readers who shell out big bucks for subscriptions?
Worse yet, by cribbing its news from the minimal reporting CNN squeezed out last night between Mel Gibson and Geraldo specials, the newspaper hung itself out to dry in terms of accuracy.
This morning CNN is reporting that closer to 25 to 30 percent of Joplin – not 75 percent – got hammered.
That’s a belated news mistake that could have avoided. Because rocking with a front page headline from a Red Cross "worker" was risky at best. Kinda like asking a cop how many people there are at the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.
How would Dennis know, anyhow? Thrust into the early stages of the worst tornado dissaster in Joplin history in the dark of night with limited communication and utter chaos all around.
If anything’s clear in disaster reporting, it’s that the early returns are almost certain to be exaggerated and/or incorrect. So why build the main front page story around a quote from somebody you saw on TV?
By mid-morning the Star had rethought its bogus headline and changed it online to read, "At least 24 killed as tornado shreds Joplin." That’s not as sensational as the "75 percent of the town is virtually gone" headline atop today’s paper, but it’s a lot less embarrassing.
The Star, like most media, supplements its news coverage online and at the time of this writing the 75 percent figure has now been rounded down to the 30 figure.
However, the problem is that by far the newspaper’s primary income is derrived from print. Profits online pale by comparison.
The question being, how much longer will aging Baby Boomers settle for "yesterday’s news" when all they have to do is what the reporters at the Star did last night; turn on the TV.