We're never in a hurry to ‘be first’ with bad information

Before becoming a journalist some 21 years ago, I was a chef for 10 years working in Houston, Atlanta and eventually Portland. I had a simple mantra I repeated in every restaurant, from line cook to server:

Never be in a hurry to serve bad food.

As a journalist and editor, it’s a mantra that I have applied to reporting the news, especially when it involves sensitive, controversial or investigative stories within our community.

In an age where media outlets are constantly competing to “be first” to break news, there is a pattern of reporting that has evolved making incomplete, unverified or single-sourced reporting acceptable in order to “be first.”

Some of this comes from the pressure within the media industry itself in our era of instant information and access; some of it comes from pressure outside the industry due to social media’s ability to spread speculation, rumor and assumption like wildfire through community circles.

Never be in a hurry to serve bad food — or in the case of good journalism, inaccurate or incomplete information.

Today’s front-page story on the terrible hazing incident in the Cottage Grove High School locker room is a story we had been working on since late September, talking with people on and off the record; contacting local police as well as the district attorney’s office; working to obtain official documentation, reports and verification; and cross referencing our information to assure that we could offer a comprehensive report that had been vetted through multiple sources.

We were in no hurry to “be first” in offering incomplete or unverified information to the community we serve.

Understandably, some community members were frustrated with the lack of coverage in this newspaper once larger outlets such as KEZI and The Register-Guard began reporting information provided by anonymous sources.

We took some lumps on social media but were determined to approach our gathering of information — and eventual reporting — with objectivity and thoroughness so that the community had a solid and accurate foundation of information moving forward rather than half-truths and speculation.

Having a real conversation about the terrible nature of this incident requires a clear and accurate understanding of what happened, and how it happened, before we can begin to assure it never happens again.

In addition to providing accurate and credible reporting, we also understand that what we report can have real-life consequences for members of our community, whether it be the school district, police department, victim or the accused.

We are in no hurry to “be first” in making matters worse for our community or those within it by fueling rumor or speculation with irresponsible reporting.

Our reporting on this incident wasn’t about “being first,” but rather to be first in providing you with information that is factual and complete.