State College Stations Show Restraint Over Paterno's Death
Local and national media outlets break the news prematurely
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/22/2012 1:54:18 PM
"Last night, different local and national TV outlets killed Joe off," says Jim Platzer, news director at WJAC Johnstown-Altoona-State College. "We did not go with that. We were at the hospital all night. We're so happy we didn't pull the trigger."
Platzer confirmed that none of the stations in DMA No. 102 ran with the premature report. He said two Pittsburgh stations did; a KDKA spokesperson said the station was one of many outlets to cite the erroneous initial report, and that KDKA promptly followed up with a correction. Michael Hayes, president and general manager of WTAE, said the station ran a crawl for around 30 seconds around 10 p.m. Saturday night, reporting Paterno's death, before addressing the error in its late news. Hayes said the station is "deeply sorry" and stressed that WTAE management is reviewing its systems to prevent similar errors in the future.
Joe Paterno was 85 and died from lung cancer after a storied career as the Penn State football coach. He was dismissed in November, following the sex scandal allegedly involving longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky.
An Penn State student publication, Onward State, erroneously reported Paterno's death Saturday night, and CBSSports.com, among others, ran with the report. The Onward State managing editor, Devon Edwards, subsequently resigned. "At this time, I'm issuing a retraction of Onward State's reports," he wrote on Twitter after the initial report. "I apologize to everyone, the Paterno family most of all."
Indeed, Twitter was abuzz with misinformation on the topic, and attempts at clarification. Joe's son Scott took to Twitter to correct the misinformation:
"CBS report is wrong - Dad is alive but in serious condition. We continue to ask for your prayers and privacy during this time."
"Twitter was a disaster," says Platzer. "They killed Joe off and brought him back to life two or three times."
Platzer says WJAC is in "hurricane coverage" Sunday -- a full newsroom covering a giant local story. The station was live, and commercial free, 12-12:30 Sunday, and will be again Sunday evening.
"We're talking to high profile players, but also the local players who played for Joe Paterno," he says. "We'll get reaction from them and from the community, and definitely bring it that local flair."
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