A lesson in shoddy journalism

I’ll preface this post by acknowledging that no media outlet is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes, including the people at this newspaper.

That said, I feel compelled to say something about the unseemly way in which KSFY handled its reporting of what it apparently thought was a “dead body” found Monday morning in Mitchell.

At 8:07 a.m., KSFY posted a story on its website with a headline that said “Body found at Mitchell bar.”

Here is the entirety of that story:

Mitchell Police are investigating a dead body found at the Moonlight Bar on North Main Street in Mitchell. Police confirm that there is an active investigation in process at the scene right now. KSFY News has a crew on the way. Stay tuned for updates as we get more information.

I didn’t see KSFY’s accompanying on-air report, but I know a report was given, because one of our staffers saw it.

Meanwhile, we dispatched a reporter and photographer to the scene. They arrived around 8:15 a.m. and found nothing. The reporter spoke to someone at a neighboring business who told her the owner of the bar had suffered a heart attack and had been transported by ambulance to the local hospital. We wrote a story for the web based on that information.

According to our source, there had been no “dead body found,” as KSFY reported.

Yet KSFY kept that report posted on its site throughout the day and even featured it as the main, highlighted story on the homepage. I checked on it periodically throughout the day, and the story was unchanged through at least 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, we tracked down the rest of the story. We got the bar owner’s name and were told by police that he died later Monday morning at the hospital. We could find no indication that there was a “dead body” found at the bar. Moreover, we recognized the way in which a phrase like “dead body found” can lead people to jump to conclusions, and we were very careful about how we worded our report.

Then, at 2:02 p.m., the Mitchell Police Division issued a news release by fax. The news release stated that a 51-year-old male subject was found unresponsive at the Moonlight Bar in Mitchell, that his unresponsiveness appeared to be caused by a medical condition, and that no foul play was suspected in the man’s death.

That was an extraordinary press release, because police don’t regularly issue press releases about middle-aged men dying from natural causes. I haven’t asked the police why they did it, but I suspect they felt a need to counter the KSFY report about a “dead body found.” Police did tell us that the KSFY report caused them to receive a flood of calls from media outlets who assumed there had been a dead drunk found in the bar’s bathroom, or something like that.

Today, I checked the KSFY site again and found this follow-up story, which I’ve pasted here in its entirety:

No foul play suspected in Mitchell death

The Mitchell Police Department says there’s no sign of foul play in a body found in the Moonlight Bar in Mitchell.

The 51-year-old man was pronounced dead at a local hospital after dispatchers received a call just after 7:30 a.m. for a medical emergency.

The man’s name hasn’t been released.

So KSFY is perpetuating its original, erroneous report in the first sentence of the story by repeating the “body found” claim. Then, the story goes on to acknowledge that the man was pronounced dead at the hospital. Not only is the story wrong in the first sentence, but it also contradicts itself in the second sentence.

I don’t know what happened at KSFY yesterday or this morning, but here’s how things appear: KSFY heard something about a body in a Mitchell bar and rushed it onto the website and onto the air without getting the facts straight. After becoming aware that the original story was wrong, KSFY continued to perpetuate the error rather than correct it.

I guess it’s that last bit that bothers me the most. As I said above, we all make mistakes. But KSFY, given the chance to correct its mistaken and misleading report about a “dead body,” either chose to ignore the error or failed to recognize it. All the while, viewers of  KSFY were left with the impression that there had been some sort of mysterious and possibly criminal incident that resulted in a death in Mitchell, when in fact the death was quite routine in nature.

And, yes, KSFY beat us to the punch with its 8:07 a.m. story. I’ll admit that. Ours was posted at 8:34 a.m. But I’ll take second-and-accurate over first-and-inaccurate any day.

3 thoughts on “A lesson in shoddy journalism

  1. Shoddy Corn Palace week- did Mr Corn Palace- Mr Schilling ever think that with all the food vendors you are hurting our local restruants? Yes for every positive action, a negative one too?? What about handicap accessability- with all the rides crowed together and put up into the intersections- how were wheel-chair people to use the midway?? I noticed a plywood ramp at 4th and main, a crowded intersection at 3rd and Main-?? By the way go ahead and try a beer-garden on the midway- we’ll take you to the ballot box boy and teach you a lesson in democracy- Don’t we have enough troubles with alcoholism in this town already??

  2. Wow. Anyway …
    I saw KSFY’s story on its website about a “dead body” and I immediately had the words or phrase ‘homicide’, ‘murder’, ‘alcohol poisoning’ cross my mind. Their story stated a news crew was on the way and would have more details later. I then checked the DR’s website and found conflicting information. I chose to believe the details on the DR website were correct based on my knowledge that KSFY is not reliable. And in this case, unbelievable.

  3. I am in complete agreement with you Mr. Tupper. Right before I took off for work I had KSFY on my TV and they made the report that a body was found at the Moonlight. I drove to work thinking somebody was killed or died of some kind of alcohol related problem. When I got to work I checked the Daily Republic’s website about every 5 minutes to see if there were any updates, soon enough I saw your report that the owner was found after having an apparent heart attack. I thought to myself, “Huh, KSFY kinda sensationalized their report.”

    To r. fuchs: Huh?

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