The Paterno story: What went wrong

Updated: Incorrect reports that long-time Penn St. coach Joe Paterno had passed away Saturday night were picked up and re-transmitted by, among others, us at BreakingNews and @breakingnews. We soon learned those reports were wrong, and we owe you and the Paterno family both an apology and an explanation.

Our editor noted that CBS Sports — a trusted source — reported Paterno’s death around 9pm ET. The CBS Sports headline and story was based, seemingly, on erroneous reporting by the Penn State student publication ‘Onward State.’ The original CBS Sports obituary didn’t directly attribute the student paper.  The Huffington Post followed with a story.

However, during the evening, Onward State’s twitter feed reported it twice, first saying that Penn State football players had received an email ‘informing them of Paterno’s passing.’  A second tweet said ‘our sources’ can confirm that the coach had died at age 85. Those accounts were soon dismissed by the family.  We quickly reported the dismissal and later news that the managing editor of ‘Onward State’ had resigned.

We decided to delete the original tweet and Facebook posts (we updated the post on Google+) because those posts were shared hundreds of times, and we didn’t want to perpetuate the rumor.  For more on how the CBS report sparked reports across the web, here’s a timeline of what happened, assembled by Poynter.org’s Jeff Sonderman.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to drop us a note.

Update: CBS Sports has since published an apology.

(Post by Tom Brew, @thomasbrew)

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