Reporter: I can’t blame Twitter or 24/7 news for my Timothy McVeigh screw-up

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This correction never ran in the Dallas paper, but former News reporter Bob Ingrassia says it should have. He was the journalist who got the bum information about Timothy McVeigh from a trailer park employee; the source had confused his tenants.

“The unruly guy he’d described lived in a different trailer,” writes Ingrassia. “It turns out McVeigh was a quiet tenant who didn’t cause any problems and mostly kept to himself. Oops.”

Ingrassia and McVeigh

Ingrassia and McVeigh

Ingrassia and the reporter who took his information for the Dallas paper’s McVeigh story — Todd Gillman, apparently — agreed to “just move on” and “not to repeat the information.”

Until today.

“I can’t blame the pressures of social media” for that error, says the former Dallas reporter, who is now at a Minneapolis advertising and marketing firm. (He worked at the New York Daily News and St. Paul Pioneer Press after leaving Dallas.) “Nor can I blame the “24-hour news cycle” of cable TV news. The only mainstream social media back in 1995 was the telephone.”

Ingrassia says 24/7 news and social media only amplify errors. Here’s what causes them:

1. Faith in Numbers: Everyone else is reporting it, so it must be right. No way all of us are wrong.
2. Fear of Being Left Behind: If I don’t report this, the other guy will. My editors will chew me out for not having it.
3. Ignoring the Alarm Bell: Something tells me this information isn’t right. But it’s so good!
4. Passing the Buck: I didn’t make this stuff up. A source told me this. It’s not my fault if it turns out to be wrong.

“So next time (and there’s always a next time),” notes Ingrassia, “let’s dig a bit deeper when reporters make a mess of a breaking news story. Let’s be aware of the pressures that drive the mistakes, including those that have nothing to do with Twitter, Facebook and the web.”

* Reporter’s confession: I screwed up while covering a mass murder (fasthorseinc.com)

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