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.