Journalism Class Learns From False Reports

STATE COLLEGE, CENTRE COUNTY- There is some anger on the Penn State campus for the way that some media outlets covered Joe Paterno's death. News spread quickly Saturday that Paterno's health was failing. That night, Onward State, a Penn State student news site reported that Paterno had died. But that wasn't true... As you know he passed away Sunday morning. To make matters worse, some major news outlets ran with the false information. Corrections were made, but communication professors at Penn State University want students to learn from the mistakes.

It was the topic of discussion in many communication classes at Penn State. Today's lesson was about accurate reporting....and the pitfalls of social media.

Lecturer Sally Heffentryer talked to her news writing class about the errors some news organizations made when reporting Paterno's death.

"Accuracy, confirming information, that's all you need to do and the ethical question is about being first as opposed to being correct. Always go with being correct," Sally Heffentryer, lecturer in the college of communications said.

The class looked at articles about how the false reports spread and learned these lessons--

"Get the facts from more than just a Twitter account or what someone said or what an email says," Alysia Libby, Penn State journalism student said.

"Having a lot of pressure with trying to get the story first. I want to make sure to get the most sources as possible before I put my information out there," Kiyana Banks, Penn State journalism student said.

"You have to think about the people who are involved as well of the news, always, and try to be, just be conscious of the folks who are involved, the families when it comes to deaths particularly," Heffentryer said.

The Penn State student news website Onward State first reported Joe Paterno's death, tweeting that football players received an email that he passed away. Heffentryer says college students are learning and make mistakes. "It's an understandable mistake in some cases to get excited and get something out there when you really think its authentic. They should know the basic of confirming information, checking information, even if they are college students."

The managing editor of Onward State, Devon Edwards, has apologized and stepped down from his position, saying quote "to all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for having mislead you."

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