Growing up in journalism, I would periodically hear of the profession’s learning curve, which included making your first mistakes in smaller markets. The key was to learn from those missteps and thereby become less prone to major blunders at larger publications.

That was in the 1980s, when a story I wrote in the Marshfield Mariner took days to appear locally and wouldn’t show up globally unless someone boarded a flight at Logan International Airport and hauled a copy of the paper to another country.

Now, an inaccurate (or at least premature) report of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s death goes from a student website (Onward State) to in the blink of an eye. And from CBSSports, of course, it goes viral….then backfires, due to the national site’s lack of independent corroboration.

It’s about 11 p.m. on Jan. 21 and Onward State has issued an apology by Devon Edwards, who announced his resignation as managing editor at the same time., by contrast, hasn’t issued an apology–though it should, especially if all it did was re-hash Onward State’s erroneous report without any independent verification.

While Onward State’s mistake might be something you would  expect from young reporters and editors, how can a major outlet get so lax that it is drawn into such a sophomoric slip-up?

The gaffe will surely be dissected in the days to come, but I’ll bet that near the heart of the problem is one or more individuals’ desire to put being first ahead of being sure.

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