How false reports of Joe Paterno’s death were spread and debunked

News spread quickly Saturday evening that former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno had died. Except, he hadn’t. (Paterno’s family announced his death on Sunday morning.)

Here is an account of how the misinformation spread.


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  • Anonymous

    Jan 27 Newsflash: CBS reporting Joe Paterno is still dead.

  • Anonymous

    Joe Pa  RIP and  God Bless the Paterno family.

  • Anonymous

    Joe Pa  RIP and  God Bless the Paterno family.

  • Anonymous

    Very strange how tha guy dies b4 he had to testify ….prob. sucide frm a guilty conscious- or karma…??? 

  • Anonymous

    @david x: now it’s 46 commenters, douc*bag.

  • Anonymous

    And iIt reminds me of the Dan Rather hit job on then President Bush when he totally made up ALL of his resources and took it to his grave until the American people finally had him pushed out of the industry, and now he’s a tabloid reporter on al gore’s network – which gets lower ratings than the food network!!  hahaha

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, this is today’s media.  No “journalist” does their job and checks / confirms then checks / reconfirms then checks / reconfirms again their source(s).  No better example than when the media laid over for obama in 2007 & 2008 and did not do their job then.

    If this is how you get your news then get use to it people!!

  • http://twitter.com/UnzippedSex UnzippedSex

    He’s dead now, right? So WHO CARES!!!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CXZ5SWN6CY56AP5OMHAA6OPFAY Durty

    Unless a time of death is read from the death certificate, no one truly knows when he died.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_3SFKSWXXWAEBOSHIIAQIFGANLI WMBMUSA

    He was probably dead when CBS said he died, Saturday died.  The Paterno family just wanted to deny it for as long as possible like the child abuse scandal, finally “officially” reporting his death Sunday morning.

  • http://twitter.com/benknight8 ben knight

    Who. The. F—. Cares?

  • http://twitter.com/firstHat Hat

    I think the point was that folks like HufPo were willing to jump on the “you heard it first here” bandwagon without acknowledging their source (no hat tip), only to finally acknowledge that source when they found out the information was wrong (it’s *their* fault, not ours!).

    (this was supposed to be in response to Terry Mark, but there was a collusion in the interjunction somewhere. Sorry!)

  • Anonymous

    The source was a college newspaper.  So it begs the question: as talented amateurs and presumably as aspiring professionals, what sort of training was given to Onward State editors and reporters?  Were they also students in the University’s journalism program?  And if so, what does it say about that program?  Just another casse of “stenography as journalism,” if you ask me.  Personally, I would rather be right with a story than first with a story, even though the hyper-charged, techno-atmosphere of today’s journalism would have it the other way round.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    The ESPN situation with Syracuse isn’t comparable. You had people coming out publicly making the charges against Fine and there isn’t a news agency in the world that would ignore it. ESPN may have taken it a bit too far with some of the coverage, but I wouldn’t say they did something wrong by originally reporting the Fine claims.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JSUNTE67TUHS36QAOVMR4LC5HA Pink

    The ESPN situation with Syracuse isn’t comparable. You had people coming out publicly making the charges against Fine and there isn’t a news agency in the world that would ignore it. ESPN may have taken it a bit too far with some of the coverage, but I wouldn’t say they did something wrong by originally reporting the Fine claims.

  • http://twitter.com/DnJsPosse Pat Rhode

    this is insane. Media needs to get their dang stories straight. This includes anyone who posts anything on the internet. RIP Mr. Paterno. This also reminds me of the stupid predictions that media makes on the GOP winners of the caucuses and elections. Wait until ALL the votes are counted people. Media should start being held accountable for their reporting!

  • http://twitter.com/realbbbb realbbbb

    So

  • ExPatInPA

    So Mr. Edwards, the “managing editor” of Onward State, is a sociology and poly sci major heading to law school.  In other words, absolutely zero journalism training and absolutely zero credibility as a journalist.  This is a sad day for my profession and an indictment of social media and so-called “citizen journalism.”

  • http://www.dpsinfo.com LaurieMann

    There are some people who like to spread rumors. Other people would rather spread a rumor than check to see if it’s accurate.  When you replace “people” with “news outlets,” it’s a bigger mess.

  • http://twitter.com/RearViewMirror3 Rear View Mirror

    Right, and plagirism is really “incomplete attribution.” Check.

  • peggy bainbridge

    What is disgraceful about pointing out the origin of the report?  Especially of the death of ANYONE, especially a public figure?  What’s disgraceful, especially for a so-called journalist of any stripe, is failure to independently CONFIRM news.

  • Jack Sundheim

    And of course Huffington Post only cited Onward State once they learned it was wrong.

  • David X

    Burying a tweet about the item would mean not mentioning it at all. If you’re saying that Poynter perhaps should have put their false tweet in the lead of the story, then you have no idea how to organize a news story because it is clearly not the most important aspect of this one. Yes, they were wrong for repeating the report, but they didn’t make the original report.

    You blow as a media critic, really.

  • David X

    Whether you like it or not, the man was a major participant in what is most likely the biggest off-field sports story of the year. You don’t get to be one of the biggest operators in such a public sphere and beg off. In addition, no one violated the man’s privacy. You like to throw around a lot of accusations like “reckless” and “irresponsible” but I see nothing in your post to warrant such charges. All in all your post is a lot of hot air and chest-puffing self-righteousness with zero substance behind it.

  • David X

    You must hate all of social media then. Twitter, Facebook, so much of it is people acting like they had their own printing presses. It’s a good thing you’re not a reporter, because you would totally suck at it. “Scoop? What’s a scoop?”

  • David X

    All it goes to show is that some commenters would rather rip the entire mainstream media when it was just a couple of outlets that ran with the story. Virtually all media outlets held fire, but for people who want to tar them all with one brush, I guess that doesn’t matter. And the 29 commenters at the time of this posting who liked Amanda Meyers’ comment suck too. That’s the real disgrace here. I guess reading comprehension and fairness count for nothing on a comment board.

  • http://twitter.com/RearViewMirror3 Rear View Mirror

    So Poynter itself buried the fact Poynter itself tweeted the false item and without attribution. Pot meet kettle, redux, ad infinitum, whatever. You guys blow, really.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/REIZSDFFSDPRUBAVGGA45SDLXY Powerpuffgrl

    It reminds me of when I was watching the Sago Mine rescue a few years ago.  All the media outlets were saying all the miners had been found alive.  The only one I saw questioning the source of the information was CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  Even while other CNN reporters were saying all 12 miners were alive, Cooper was stating that there was no official confirmation of the report.  He had to do a lot less backpedaling when it was finally found out there was only one survivor.  Reporting news is a difficult job to do but it seems to me that in this day and age, taking a couple extra minutes to verify sources is even more critical than the need to be first with the “story”.

  • Brian Mastro

    My blog post about the horrible reporting surrounding this whole situation  
    http://bstroblog.blogspot.com/2012/01/joe-paterno-is-still-alive-media.html

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    “getting it first” is a mental disease … repressed symptoms include fear and insecurity.

    it is an industry trope that should disappear. 

  • Brian Mastro

    CBS reported it BEFORE Onward State yet CBS tries to blame the college student run editorial, even though CBS was still first to report it, SHAME ON CBS

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4XW2GY63C7YM5T5QVSI6PL5X3A caddieforbark

    CBS and this ghoulish episode..
    ESPN and the disappearing Bernie Fine case..

    A stunning lack of ethics going on with these massive media giants.

    CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Fox Sports & ESPN are is this gigantic battle for eyeballs and they won’t let the truth get in the way.

  • http://twitter.com/Jamie_Goncalves Jamie Gonçalves

    Student publications work the same as professional ones.  You don’t get a pass to make mistakes.   

  • http://twitter.com/JennaLaineBucs JennaLaineBucs

    Commend you all at Poynter for not deleting your own tweet regarding Paterno. Valuable lesson in this for us all

  • kenny smith

    The CBS apology:

    Earlier Saturday night, CBSSports.com published an unsubstantiated report that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had died. That mistake was the result of a failure to verify the original report. CBSSports.com holds itself to high journalistic standards, and in this circumstance tonight, we fell well short of those expectations.
    CBSSports.com extends its profound and sincere apology to the Paterno family and the Penn State community during their difficult time.http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/story/16960572

  • http://twitter.com/Real_DWM Your Real Name

    Walter Cronkite would be so proud of CBS right now.  Sheesh.  It’s sad the “news reporting” has lowered itself to relying on Twitter

  • Anonymous

    Continuing to report as you did about Joe Pa in the Sandusky case; premature, full of speculation, reckless, and irresponsible. Leave the man alone. Privacy has been requested and would be the most decent, ethical gesture by the media to comply. Being the first to report a story like this is not an exclusive and will not increase anyone’s ratings.

  • Anonymous

    Continuing to report as you did about Joe Pa in the Sandusky case; premature, full of speculation, reckless, and irresponsible. Leave the man alone. Privacy has been requested and would be the most decent, ethical gesture by the media to comply. Being the first to report a story like this is not an exclusive and will not increase anyone’s ratings.

  • Terry Mark

    Many journalists did “do their damn job.” The report originated with Onward State, was picked up by two “major media outlets” — a blogger for CBS Sports and the Huffington Post — while other outlets did the responsible thing. What is disgraceful about pointing out the origin of the report?

  • Terry Mark

    Many journalists did “do their damn job.” The report originated with Onward State, was picked up by two “major media outlets” — a blogger for CBS Sports and the Huffington Post — while other outlets did the responsible thing. What is disgraceful about pointing out the origin of the report?

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    In the works. Stay tuned. –Julie

  • http://twitter.com/RoqPlanas Roque Planas

    Would appreciate a follow up on CBS Sports pinning the error on Onward State, when — as far as I could tell — it was CBS that gave the story legs. Doesn’t the org have a responsibility to own up, apologize and retract when they run an unattributed story? 

  • http://twitter.com/TheOtherSjarifG Sjarif Goldstein

    How does it show that? Only one “major media outlet” reported Paterno was dead? Every other one (ESPN, AP, SI, etc.) waited for confirmation.

  • Anonymous

    This shows the glaring difference between the veracity of a lone amateur/student website or blogger and dying breed of legitimate news organizations who believe in verification, more verification and double verification.   You can be first but not at the expense of accuracy — a lesson I learned in Poynter’s “Ethical Decision Making” in1992.  It is tragic the landscape is changing so much that website post, a tweet or chat room claim gets reported as the gospel truth.  Wake up folks.

  • Brian Mastro

    CBS reported it before Onward State, Onward State based their report off of the CBS report 

  • http://www.mediabistro.com/FishbowlLA Richard Horgan

    The first line of CBSSports.com blogger Adam Jacobi’s Twitter profile reads “I blog atomically.” That is now true in ways that he probably never imagined.

  • Amanda Meyers

    all it goes to show is that major media outlets would rather be in front of the news than confirm that a report is actually true. blaming a student news organization is disgraceful. You’re professionals. Do your damn job.