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Why so much bad information in the first hours after the Newtown shooting?

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Why so much bad information in the first hours after the Newtown shooting?
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In the hours after the shooting, national news stations went into wall to wall breaking news coverage. But much of what they were reporting was wrong. For example, how the gunman got into the school, his identity, his mother's affiliation with the school. Our Katie Gibas spoke with industry experts about how and why there was so much bad information and what can be done about it in the future.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- It's becoming all too familiar a story. A mass casualty event. And news outlets jumping into wall to wall live breaking news coverage without much information.

"You think of what you were hearing in the first 20 minutes of coverage and the first hour, first two hours and you can go down a list, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong," said Bob Thompson, a Popular Culture Professor at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

Joan Deppa, who teaches the news ethics course at SU's Newhouse School, added, "There's a very big difference between buzzing someone in, which would have made the principal seem responsible for the incident and having the man shoot his way into the school."

Experts say there are a few reasons so much misinformation was reported. First, it's lack of information readily available. The shooting happened at 9:30 Friday morning. The first news conference wasn't until two in the afternoon. That's when the first official information was available.

"Usually, in the beginning, you know practically nothing. You generally have visuals, often aerials of wherever it's happening and then you're being expected to constantly say stuff about something you know very little about," said Thompson.

Hub Brown, a Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at the Newhouse School, added, "They're getting information from people who may have witnessed something somewhere. There might be people on scene who claim they witnessed things who actually didn't. Law enforcement people are going to be busy, incredibly busy. First responders, incredibly busy. You're never going to get a chance to talk to those people right away."

Secondly, experts say wrong information is also because of an immediate demand for information.

"A lot of it is the competitive, 24-7 news culture that we have now. And part of it frankly is people will talk to you about why don't the media get these things right, and they're also the first ones to get on someone's back if they're the last ones to report something. It's a very slow process and people are going to have to understand that if they want good, credible, strong information, they're going to have to wait for it," said Brown.

Many of those in Journalism say they're disappointed by Friday's reporting.

"Reporting like that damages our reputation grievously. We don't have a lot of good standing with a lot of people in the first place because of a lot of the things that have gone on," said Brown.

Without knowing each individual reporter's situation and what led to the misinformation, it's tough to say what should have been done. But the basic guideline of reporting what is confirmed and admitting what you don't know is a good place to start.

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