When false news happens

Idaho Falls

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It was an average Tuesday morning in our newsroom. We had just held our daily planning meeting and were getting ready for the day.

Suddenly the phones started to ring and emails, text, and Facebook messages began pouring in with unbelievable news.

DeOrr Kunz Jr. had been found alive at a Minnesota campground.

A Montana TV news station was reporting the huge scoop on its website. EastIdahoNews.com doesn’t publish or broadcast anything unless it’s been confirmed, so we immediately started working our sources. We contacted the Lemhi County Sheriff’s Office, local police, and I called DeOrr’s father, DeOrr Sr., on his cell phone.

“DeOrr, is it true? Has your son been found in Minnesota?” I asked hopefully.

A long pause. Then his response:

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

The report was false. The writer at the Montana station had confused DeOrr’s disappearance with another report of a missing child who had been found. The story was full of inaccuracies and should never have been posted.

We contacted the station and, within 20 minutes, a correction was issued and the writer posted an apology on his newsroom’s Facebook page. Fortunately no major damage was done – just a lot of false hope – but we’re reminded, once again, how quickly news (true or false) spreads in this digital, Facebook, texting, social and smartphone world.

It’s important, now more than ever, that journalists have their information correct.

I’ll admit, in my 10 years of reporting, I’ve gotten things wrong. I once said I was reporting live from Henrico County, Virginia, when I was actually in Hanover County, Virginia. I called somebody Jessica Smith during a report when their name was Jessica Robinson. I reported four streets were closed when 14 had actually been shut down.

I felt horrible about these mistakes. I never want to report false information, and I don’t know any journalist who does.

But when it happens, we have to admit we messed up and strive to be more careful. There’s no purpose in hiding or denying that inaccuracies happen. We’re human and we sometimes mishear, misquote or simply get it wrong.

At EastIdahoNews.com we do our best to get everything 100 percent right. We only report confirmed facts – not rumors, speculation, or hearsay. Although those things make for great discussion on Facebook pages and groups, they don’t belong on a reputable news website.

When we get something wrong, we promise to admit it, correct it, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

We thank you for trusting us to bring you the most comprehensive news coverage in East Idaho. We hope we’re living up to your expectations and, if we’re not, I want to hear from you. Email me any time – nate.eaton@eastidahonews.com.

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