June 3, 2013

Saturday morning saw a flurry of activity on social media channels in Birmingham, Ala., as local television station CBS 42 published a report at 11:27 a.m. CT that the city’s former mayor, Larry Langford, had died in prison. Langford is serving a 15-year sentence after a federal conviction on 60 counts related to his time as president of the Jefferson County Commission.

The following tweet was sent out by station reporter Kaitlin McCulley (screen-captured, as the tweet has been deleted):

At least one other news organization published a story based on the CBS 42 report. That story has also been removed.

Less than 30 minutes later, Alabama Media Group reporter Barnett Wright reported that he’d contacted Langford’s wife, Melva, leading to these tweets:

 

 

That led in short order to a new tweet by McCulley:

 

The original story published to CBS 42’s website was temporarily unavailable. The link, updated at 12:11 p.m. CT, now sends visitors to an “updated” story with the following explanation:

Conflicting reports on the health of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford have been coming out this morning.

On Saturday, one family member of Langford’s spoke with CBS42 stating that he had passed away.

However, his wife Melva Langford has told CBS42 that she has not been notified by the Bureau of Prisons that her husband had passed.

Currently the former mayor is said to be gravely ill but he is still alive.

CBS42 will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest information as soon as it becomes available.

The original stories and tweets were removed, but questions remain for journalists: How do you balance speed and accuracy? And is there a way to “un-ring the bell” once such reports are published?

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André Natta is a journalist and columnist based in Birmingham, AL. He serves as digital media producer for Birmingham, AL NPR affiliate WBHM and performs…
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