What Happened Last Night
Last night was one of the worst moments of my entire life. But before I can explain what happened, you need to know a bit about Onward State. Onward State is a community news site, and that means that most decisions are made in a collaborative environment. To the best of my ability, given privacy considerations, I hope to explain how Onward State came to inaccurately report that Joe Paterno had died.
The story began Saturday morning, when an Onward State writer got confirmation on a story that he had been working on since the previous evening — that Joe Paterno was in his final days. We held off on reporting that story until it was reported elsewhere, a decision we fatefully didn’t repeat later in the day. Around 4:00 p.m., Blue-White Illustrated’s Tom McAndrew wrote a post on the premium board that Joe Paterno’s health was in serious decline and his family had been summoned to his bedside. We added McAndrew’s information to our report and published the original item we had been holding, reporting that Joe Paterno was clinging to life.
For the next few hours, unknowing of what would happen next, managing editor Devon Edwards worked with reporters who were spread across campus at various points of interest. Our online newsroom allows us to collaborate and communicate from anywhere, and we all saw as reports both of JoePa’s death and his continued survival rolled in from across the web. We did not act on any of these reports.
But at around 8:00 p.m., one of our writers posted that he had received word from a source that Joe Paterno had died. The source had been forwarded an email ostensibly sent from a high-ranking athletics official (later found to be a hoax) to Penn State athletes with information of Paterno’s passing. A second writer — whom we later found out had not been honest in his information — confirmed to us that the email had been sent to football players. With two independent confirmations of an email announcing his death, managing editor Devon Edwards was confident in the story and hit send on the tweet we had written, informing the world that Joe Paterno had died.
Shortly after that, the unthinkable happened — Paterno family spokesman Dan McGinn issued a refutation of our information, later corroborated on Twitter by Paterno’s sons Scott and Jay.
Disbelief spread across the organization and its members as we realized the gravity of our mistake. As Edwards explained to me in an email comment, “Sadness turned to shock and panic as I realized that I had made the mistake of a lifetime.”
After we had issued retractions of our misinformation, Devon and I regrouped and talked about what would come next. We mutually decided that it would be in the organization’s best interest for him to apologize publicly and relinquish his post as managing editor, effective immediately. Devon will remain affiliated with the organization and, given his experience last night, we will be drawing on him extensively to improve our editorial processes in hopes of preventing something like this from ever happening again.
On behalf of everyone at Onward State, I would like to apologize for our organization’s inaccurate reporting last night. More than anything else, we value our readers’ trust, and the sick feeling in my stomach is a constant reminder that last night, we lost a great deal of it. Onward State is a student-run community news website. We believe in our readers and writers, and hope that together Onward State can emerge from this episode a better and more accountable organization because of it. Feel free to contact me via email with additional comments on how we can improve — we are here to serve you.
50 Responses to “What Happened Last Night”
At the end of the day, dude’s dead. What’s 12 hours’ difference?
Mistakes happen. What doesn’t usually happen is this kind of responsibility. Sorry for your community’s loss, but hold your head high.
We all can’t do the right thing all the time, but we sure as hell can fix it when we realize what’s happened.
Thank you explaining how this could have happened. It is rare that a news source, at whatever level, gives the truth and doesn’t try to defend what happened as being correct. Regardless of the time frame between this story and Joe’s actual death, it was still a lie and brought about by a hoax. It’s a lesson learned for the editor and the newspaper. I doubt major news sources will follow your example but you did the right thing.
Mistakes happen. No one needs to get fired, no one needs to resign.
You are dealing with this effectively.
Now get your eye on the ball and get back to doing what you do best.
You’re comments are stupid and are probably meant to start a long stupid forum having nothing to do with this article. And if you are serious, I’m sure you’d be ok with reading your closest family member’s death in the newspaper obituary before their actual death. Maybe, it wouldn’t matter. But it’s still wrong.
Thanks for the clarification. Your transparancy is honorable and appreciated! Def. encourages me to rely on OS as a news source in the future.
The only issue I have with this whole “explanation” is that you either ARE or AREN’T a real, and reputable news outlet. If OnwardState is just snarky comments and editorials on other sources actual stories, then portray yourselves as such.
You are local. Your sister site has one of the Paterno’s as a staff writer. As a student-body oriented site, your reports should be more relevant than the CDT or a non-regional newspaper on the issues that matter in Happy Valley. If you never would have expected to have one of your stories picked up by national news outlets, then why operate? Why not hold yourselves to a high standard and live up to the responsibility that comes with the title? So…GET IT RIGHT, OR GO AWAY.
If nothing else comes from this, it shouldn’t be to “apologize publicly and relinquish his post as managing editor” , it should be a moment of clarity for the rampant shoddy reporting that goes on not only on this site but in State College as a whole.
JoePa didn’t accept mediocrity. He deserved better by the Board of Trustees. He deserved more respect than to be used as a keyword or name-drop in the irresponsible spin of the national news outlets coverage of Jerry Sandusky. He deserved to have the close relationship he had with the student body reciprocated by a news outlet for the students to be accurate and responsible.
What are you apologizing for again?
What sort of disciplinary action does the 2nd writer face for falsifying his report?
As a magazine editor and publisher who has spent his career in the sports journalism industry, it is refreshing to see how your program has handled this mishap. In the age of technology, with Twitter posts and the like, information and sourcing has become a very gray area. We can all recall the recent Lebron James sweepstakes for example where noted people all had “sources” and “sources themselves” all put their two cents into where he was going. In the end, nearly all of them were wrong.
In review of your explanation, you had a thought process and a business procedure which you followed. In this industry, there is nothing more you can do. To the best of your ability, you verified your sources and made a joint decision to report on what you had found. There is no harm in that and while the outcome was unfortunate, the bottom line is you did your best and did so without the intention of personal gain.
In fact, the internet is constantly strewn with articles that say, “Source:….” or “according to sources.” They are merely reporting as you did, but with the caveat of not truly reporting it themselves. The responsibility lies with the source, not the publication.
Today’s journalism industry relies competitively on who can report news first. Who had the first Twitter post. Who posted the story on their respective blog or Facebook page. And there are few precious seconds to really assess information.
This was one of those cases.
While I respect your decision to handle your staffing as such, I don’t feel it was necessary to have your Editor step down. Many may see this as “self policing,” but in reality your staff executed to the best of their ability and within the confines of good journalistic practices.
It is easy for those on the outside to look at your work and critique, criticize, and ostracize. That’s the nature of the beast, but at the same time it cannot deter the ultimate goal of your publication.
Considering how high profile this individual was and the controversy surrounding his latter tenure at Penn State, only further sours this situation, perhaps unfairly. To look at this in a different light, people forget how many news outlets reported misinformation about the Sandusky trial and allegations. Did any of them apologize? No. They just continued reporting.
I applaud your efforts to report this effectively and honestly and be as transparent with your process as possible. I wish each of your staff best of luck in the future and hope that you will continue to strive and provide objective content.
What happened last night?
Yeah we had way too much fun,
and we really jumped the gun,
when we said JoePa was done,
that happened last night.
How people & organizations respond in a time of crisis says a lot about character.
You made a very serious mistake, but I think your swiftness in correcting the error, the way you’ve held yourselves accountable, and the transparency in explaining how this occurred is admirable. This is in direct contrast to the actions of CBS Sports since they ‘broke’ the story for the MSM.
Live, learn and grow from this. Triple check sources before going to ‘print’ but keep honing your craft. Above all, keep your integrity. Stay accountable. Respect your readers and they will respect you in return.
A bad mistake has been made, but anyone who supported the managing editor’s decision to reisgn did him a disservice. This was not a resignation, but rather he was quitting. Quitting because he was not given the opportunity to see his mistake through, reap it’s aftermath, and move forward. Quitting also left those that remain without a “leader”, so to speak, in a tough situation.
I certainly understand how this happened. I know it could have done better. But it’s time to man up, pull one’s bootstraps, and drive on.
At least JoePa, in the wake of the scandal, committed to seeing his team through until the end of the season. Wish the managing editor would have done the same.
I think your Decision to Take away Devon’s Position as Managing Editor was Just as wrong as the Mistake that was Made, Shame on your paper fpr making such a decision.
I think that alone was the worst mistake that was made.
Not portraying a professional manner at all. I think you need to give Devon his position Back, effective Immediately . Otherwise you just may lose many readers !!
Now it is your choice to be accountable to your audience.
He chose to resign.
Devon took responsibility. None of us wanted him to resign; he has made incredible contributions to OS and will continue to do so.
Nit-picky, yes, but Paula, my dear– you probably shouldn’t call someone “stupid” when you can’t use the grammatically-correct spelling of “your” while insulting them.
How about, from here forward, you don’t go with anonymous sources? How about, instead of allowing people to hide behind the anonymity of emails and texts, you publish names and require them to go on the record?
Some are criticizing you for being a ‘student-run’ site…how about you teach all of them a lesson by being better than they are?
Mistakes happen. Being first is a drug. Learn from this one, seize the opportunity, apologizee (as you have) and get your nose back in the game.
This is not news, give the editor his job back. It was a mistake, and not even that large of one. The real story today is Joe has actually passed away, I doubt most anyone wants to read about what happened when you reported a false story last night.
As another veteran industry professional, I could not have said this any better. I fully agree with this entire post.
As a Penn State Alum who comes from a family rife with journalists, I would like to tell Devon Edwards to “put down the bat” and stop beating himself up. This is not something to resign over, this is something to face head on. We all make mistakes, yes even in the media, and a resignation is not the answer. Resigning will only do irrevocable damage his career and self-esteem. The people who matter – the readers – will forgive you, if they haven’t already. This kind of thing happens in the news. To those who are questioning his sources, clearly you have no idea how journalism works, so do some research and just can it. Regardless, I would tell Edwards to stay strong regardless and keep his head up. During a time of mourning, I think we need to remember to forgive, forget, and learn from our mistakes and move forward. Joe Paterno made a mistake of his own that cost him plenty – don’t let this error ruin you.
As a Penn State Alum who comes from a family rife with journalists, I would like to tell Devon Edwards to “put down the bat” and stop beating himself up. This is not something to resign over, this is something to face head on. We all make mistakes, yes even in the media, and a resignation is not the answer. Resigning will only do irrevocable damage his career and self-esteem. The people who matter – the readers – will forgive you, if they haven’t already. This kind of thing happens in the news. To those who are questioning his sources, clearly you have no idea how journalism works, so do some research and just can it. I would tell Edwards to stay strong regardless and keep his head up. During a time of mourning, I think we need to remember to forgive, forget, and learn from our mistakes and move forward. Joe Paterno made a mistake of his own that cost him plenty – don’t let this error ruin you.
Anonymous sources are pretty much how most of the news we get is published. If every source had to give a name and that name had to be published, the news would be essentially pointless. Clearly you have no idea how media operates.
What you’re saying Lindsay is “everyone does it this way…that’s good enough”. Remember when your Mom asked you if you’d jump off a bridge if everyone else did?
What I’m asking you to look at is “is that all there is”?
You can do better, but only if you choose to.
To quote a great man: “Believe deep down in your heart that you‘re destined to do great things.” – Joe Paterno
The maturity you all have shown in responding to this is impressive. I think many Penn State Alums and Onward State followers would agree that they hold PROFESSIONAL media outlets as the irresponsible parties in this situation, as I know I do. I believe in my heart that all of you involved at Onward State wanted to get the information out as quickly as possible because of your love for the Penn State community, not because you wanted to take claim for being the first. Keep at it!
It was a mistake. In the world of mistakes made at Penn State, it is miniscule.
If only others had done their jobs and admitted mistakes a bit earlier this might be a somber and an entirely honored event.
Onward State’s professionalism in this entire affair has been astounding, especially in the face of what the other, bigger “news” media have been doing. You should hold your heads up high for your reporting. That being said, what happened last night was a mistake. We are all Penn Staters, and a bit closer than others to this situation. It’s emotional. It can’t be otherwise. Devon, please don’t beat yourself up over this. Don’t resign. Keep showing the professionalism that you’ve shown through these dark times in Happy Valley. Don’t let this one mistake ruin you because, truth be told, after JoePa’s passing I’ve already forgotten that OS tweeted too early. We all need each other right now. We are Penn State. We stand together.
if a source lies to you, you are no longer duty bound to protect them. Clearly you have some idea how the media operates, but you suffer from a lack of experience. That will come in time if you make it past your college-level experience. It’s too bad, really. You had the chance of “Covered the last year of Joe Paterno’s tenure” on your resume. Now you can only boast that you botched this story. It might be a noose around your neck and prevent anyone associated with the site from landing employment with a real news outlet. I hope it does not as you are just kids and were in over your heads from the start.
This situation is a perfect example of the journalism industry’s ‘must report first’ mindset. So unprofessional
and the reputation of philth/pedo state university continues to decline…PSU is worse than a community college. No wonder you guys brag about being a party school. Have fun working minimum wage at Mcdonalds.
Journalists = wasteful spending.
here’s a better discussion http://www.godlikeproductions.com/forum1/message1762041/pg1
Presented without comment, but have a nice day: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704358904575477643369663352.html
Lose your reputation, job, and life in one month. The Joe Pa Hat trick. Hope he’s burning in hell right now while trying to explain himself to God.
You’re a dick. You’ll be the one burning in hell, you heartless asshole.
Yes, it was a mistake – but you have handled it with utmost professionalism, care and courage. Two independent sources confirming the same information is generally a good basis to go off of, and you made what you thought to be the best decision with the information you could. I applaud you for how you have handled this. You still have my trust, Onward State!
Where’s the obit for this site?
Mistakes happen. Thanks for all you have done over the past couple months. Even as an alum, OS is the first place I go to for University news. Keep up the great work.
Commendable, thanks for the explanation! Goes further than CBS Sports, HuffPo, etc. They should all have such high standards of ethics and transparency.
And will Paterno’s sons apologize for their lies that caused this?
Probably not. Look at who they learned “right” and wrong from.
Highly experienced journalists under less pressure than this kid have made mistakes too. Everybody has. Anyone in this business who claims they never have is either lying or hasn’t been trying hard enough. Give Devon a break, and he should give himself one too. If he was any good before this lapse, then he should be even better now.
It was a mistake. I know that Jay Paterno passed all the students at the statue last night. I heard he told Joe and it made him happy. I’m not sure if Joe was told about what everyone thought, but I think the false report really got the students out to the statue. Joe knew he was appreciated but I cant help but think that all the students at the statue touched his heart in a way that reitterated the fact that he could pass on with peace.
Your website should be ashamed of itself and personally I say shut it down. Even with such a monumental figurehead, every family deserves a bubble of time where the media should not be bothering them when a family member is literally on his/her deathbed. What brings pride in being the first to break a death? I understand journalism completely, but I do not understand the need to go off such flimsy sources to try to be the first. Utterly inexusable and completely unprofesional. It makes me sick to think that Jay Paterno had to come out and refute that his dad died thanks to a few misguided and disgraceful writers. No family should have to dispel rumors of any story regarding death.
no more anonymous sources.
You should not resign. The journalism profession needs the type of integrity and humility you have shown in this piece. You will be a better journalist because of this.
It was a mistake . . . what takes precedence is the subject of the report . . . Joe Paterno’s health. As we all know, a great man passed away yesterday and that’s where to focus should be at this point. I highly doubt that JoePa would find fault with how this journalistic endeavor reported his final hours. I would think he would not find it necessary for anoyone to be held to such perfectionistic standards. The human animal makes mistakes. This will ALWAYS be the case. As to those who need to find fault with anything surrounding PSU, I pray for you.
I’ve never understood jounslism’s obsessive nature of needing to break a story first. As a consumer of news, I could not tell you who broke any story first for any story that’s happened in my lifetime. And if you told me who broke it first, I still wouldn’t care. I pnly interested in accurate and thoughtful writing.
From one journalist to another, you are going to make mistakes in your career. Sometimes they can be big. Everyone is going to make mistakes, doesn’t matter what profession. But it’s okay, because you move on and learn from them.
You have just done something a lot of people can’t do. You have apologized to the world, with great sincerity, and it takes a brave person to do that.
Don’t lose sleep at night because of what happened and what people might think of you. You were just doing one of your many jobs as a journalist: informing the public. Making mistakes shows that you’re human, and we understand how upset you are right now.
Should the Chicago Tribune have shut down after running “Dewey Defeats Truman” during the 1948 presidential election? Should Reuters, CNN, and NPR have shut down after reporting that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was killed after being shot last January?
The media makes mistakes all the time. These things happen, the current staff of Onward State has shown humilty and grace beyond their years for stepping up and admitting that they made a mistake and promising to make changes to ensure that errors like this don’t happen in the future. What more can you ask?
Besides, his name is Joe not Jay. Inexcusable!!!!!!!!!
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