If you’re not first, you’re last.
Ricky Bobby’s dad was most likely under the influence of drugs when he uttered that phrase in “Talladega Nights,” but it definitely applies to the world we live in today. Journalism has not been given an exemption to the rule.
The rush to be the first to break a story has become more addictive in the journalism realm than Blue Magic in “Breaking Bad.”
Regardless of if the intention was to break a story, a prime example of how rumors gain traction came up Saturday night when a Western Kentucky University broadcast news student and Bleacher Report contributor Sam McGaw tweeted out a rumor he read about LSU football coach Les Miles.
“@sammcgaw: There are rumors that LSU head football coach Les Miles will step down on Monday after allegedly having an affair with a student. Hmm...”
McGaw stated in additional tweets that he read about the innuendo on an online message board. The problem? The site was Bamaonline.com, devoted to LSU’s biggest rival.
Now Mr. McGaw certainly wasn’t the first person to make this assertion about Miles, true or not, and certainly won’t be the last. But he should have known better.
I couldn’t believe the 165 Twitter accounts that retweeted McGaw and the 30,000-plus people who hit the follow button on his Twitter account. People believe anything they read on the Internet, especially when it’s from someone who is employed in the media industry.
When all those blog enthusiasts and message board mavens saw someone with a journalistic background who found the assertion plausible enough to send it out to the masses, they took the bait, hook, line and sinker. If you’re going to tweet something out, rumor or not, about a 59-year-old man having an extra-marital affair with a student, you better have sources to back it up.
After seeing McGaw’s tweet and other rumblings of the Miles rumor, a reporter here at The Daily Reveille contacted LSU Sports Information Director Michael Bonnette about the ordeal. He sent a text message in reply saying LSU doesn’t comment on online rumors, and there was and is no news conference scheduled for today.
Although I’m not a journalism major, I’ve been involved with both the print and broadcast aspects of Student Media at LSU for more than two years, and I’m smart enough to know you have to take message boards for what they are: places that give fans the opportunity to bring up whatever comes to mind when they wake up in the morning.
If I were to report news from an LSU message board, I could have reported actress and former Brown University student Emma Watson was at the LSU baseball game Friday night when she was nowhere to be seen.
McGaw’s assertion would have been fine if he was just an average Joe trying to stir up trouble, but as a journalist, he should have seen these repercussions coming his way.
Saturday was a warning to anyone trying to make a name for themselves in today’s journalism business: You are what you tweet. Journalists have to think of the impact of the information they send out on social media because they will be held accountable and reputations will be damaged if what they report turns out to be false.
Even if the outlandish rumor does turn out to be valid, McGaw’s and others’ assertions on the Miles fiasco would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Sourcing stories and reporting news shouldn’t revolve around message boards and hearsay.
McGaw retroactively tweeted multiple times he hadn’t talked to any sources or done any research into the matter. He just put out a rumor he heard about on the Internet.
If he is indeed right, it’s just a one-in-a-million occurrence and shouldn’t set precedence for aspiring journalists from here on out.