My good friend David Cohn (aka DigiDave) has revived the Carnival of Journalism, with the opening blog topic of: The changing role of Universities for the information needs of a community.

To quote Dave, what a “rad” idea.  In his opening blog entry, Dave writes:

    One of the Knight Commission‘s recommendations is to “Increase the role of higher education…..as hubs of journalistic activity.” Another is to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.”

As one who has written about the intersection of academia and the profession often, I’ve kicked around how exactly to approach this initial blog post.   Increasingly, I believe universities have a major role in news literacy and returning journalism to the principles of the “past.”  The  behavior of news organizations in the initial coverage of the Tucson shootings got me thinking again to how off course many mainstream news organizations are in the quest to get the great “scoop.”

We’ve all read about the disastrous breaking news coverage, in which NPR, CNN and others mistakenly reported that Rep. Gabrille Giffords had died.  After the fact, Alicia Shepard, NPR’s omudsman, deconstructed how NPR’s shoddy reporting happened and its effect on the families involved.  But, in a Facebook posting prior to her report, Shepard said the erroneus report was “only” up for about 15 or 30 minutes.

And in one early tweet captured by several, NPR’s David Folkenflik attempts to explain the erroneus reporting through human assumptions:

    “That said, if bullet goes entirely through someone’s head, not hard to believe eyewitnesses might be convinced she was dead & say so (more).”

The message to journalism students should be simple:  Speed Kills.  In this case, speed killed the reputation of NPR, CNN and others.

It isn’t news that Twitter has dramatically changed the journalistic playing field.  The ability to transmit news instantly is tantalizing. We need to teach students that just because you can post NOW doesn’t necessarily mean you should.  Stop.  Think. Report. Write….then, maybe, you Tweet.

The need to be first, compounded by cable television’s 24-hour desire for images and anything close to news has created an environment where reputable news organizations are now reporting faulty information in the quest to be first.

It’s not Ok to be wrong.  Even if it’s “only” for 15 minutes.

It’s not Ok to assume a shot to the head means death.  Sometimes people survive.

My old boss at The Washington Post’s Web site was fond of saying “I would rather be second and right than first and wrong.”

Sure, universities need to be hubs for their communities but we educators to begin the quest to end “spaghetti against the wall journalism.”  Let’s stop throwing news against the wall and seeing what sticks.  Let’s preach about the need to make sure what we’re reporting is right.

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