The Onward State Joe Paterno Death Error Saga: The Complete Storify

In the wake of the Onward State Joe Paterno death error saga, I have put together a Storify providing a full listing of relevant links that collectively lay out the gist of what happened and the larger lessons we can all take away.  The hope is that it might be a helpful resource for j-students, student media staffers, and their advisers and profs.

Since Storify is not yet synced with WordPress.com sites (yes, it says it is, but it is actually not), I’ve also included a screenshot rundown here.

Last Saturday night, the managing editor of Onward State at Penn State University resigned suddenly.  The resignation came hours after the online student news outlet mistakenly reported that former PSU head football coach Joe Paterno had died from lung cancer.  While his death became sadly true roughly 12 hours later, it was not accurate when Onward State first confirmed it.  The erroneous scoop spread rapidly across the news media and social media landscapes and its subsequent retraction led to a lot of anger, cringing, head-scratching, and a quest to understand what went wrong and how we can learn from it.

A USA TODAY College column I posted on Sunday provides a solid all-in-one-place basic breakdown of the mistaken scoop, its quick spread, its subsequent retraction, the consequences, and the public and press reaction.

Jeff Sonderman’s excellent round-up of tweets and story links is a visual guide through the initial moments of the scoop, where it spread, and how it was debunked and then retracted.

The resignation letter posted by Onward State managing editor Devon Edwards in many ways has become the seminal document of the saga– a symbol of the consequences brought on by faulty reporting and a confession of how overwhelmed the student media outlet was by the realization that its content was of interest to the general public and professional press.

Interestingly, along with the expected anger, Edwards earned a lot of kudos for the upfront way in which he addressed the mistake, a testament to the power of candor and actual remorse and to the larger recognition that, hey, at some point all of us screw up.  I was personally really moved by the kindness many professional journalists extended to Edwards and OS.

The two links above share the most candid, comprehensive explanations we are likely to get of what went wrong behind-the-scenes that night at Onward State.

The two links above provide what I personally think are the most important lessons to take away from the incident.

Meanwhile, these additional links above struck me personally as tone-deaf or just-plain wrong.  While the first piece makes some good points about the motivations behind the larger media’s rush to publish, it has nothing to do with what actually prompted Onward State to report on Paterno.  As staffers have stated publicly, the screw-up happened because of a hoax email and a bad reporter, not any desire for glory.  The second piece is odd.  Apparently a single mistake– even of great magnitude– negates the fact that Onward State is cutting edge within college media?  I might be biased (I’m quoted in one of the articles the piece cites from a few years back) but from my perspective media screw up all the time.  This post seems to imply that all the previous talk about its innovating is dumb because look how sucky it actually is.  It was one error!  One we will all learn from…

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  1. [...] It was quickly picked up by CBS Sports and other media worldwide.  Subsequent conflicting reports and statements from a family spokesman and one of Paterno’s sons led to a retraction, Edwards’s resignation, and a full explanation and apology.  (Full Storify here.) [...]



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