The desire to be the first should go out the window with sensitive stories.
Over the weekend, the deaths of two sports stars showed an ugly side to the way the media operates.
That added a sombre backdrop to my research on sports betting in New Jersey and beyond while watching the Brooklyn Nets on Sky Sports on Sunday evening.
On Saturday, 25-year-old Matlock Town midfielder Jordan Sinnott died following an assault in the early hours, while on Sunday, the world mourned the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash.
In my capacity as media manager of the Northern Premier League, the first I had heard of the tragic incident involving Sinnott around midday – when the league’s General Manager rang me to advise that a decision was due to made on whether Matlock’s game at Mickleover Sports would go ahead.
Clearly at this time, the news was very raw. Although at that stage we didn’t know the circumstances, our understanding was that he had passed, although the decision was made to wait for his club, Matlock, to make a statement and provide the facts. In the meantime, I would do some research and prepare a comment from the league and an appropriate story for the website to be published as and when the facts were confirmed.
Sadly, other people didn’t take such a responsible result.
The match was subsequently called off and the club tweeted that it was due to “tragic and unforeseen circumstances”, without elaborating further. Sinnott’s parent club, Alfreton Town, did similar in calling their National League game off against Gateshead.
BREAKING – Due to very unforeseen and tragic circumstances this afternoons @TheVanaramaNL fixture at home to @GatesheadFC has been postponed. The club will be making no further comment at this time but will release an official statement in due course. #RedsLive
— Alfreton Town FC (@AlfretonTownFC) January 25, 2020
My understanding at this time was that Sinnott had passed, though it would become apparent later on that he hadn’t.
The first public comment regarding Sinnott that came to my attention was when one of his former clubs, Halifax Town, effectively announced his passing.
At the time, I was disappointed to see this – not least, because I felt the most appropriate confirmation of this news would be via Matlock.
From there, the news snowballed – it was covered by The Mirror and by BBC radio. One journalist copped a load of abuse for suggesting that it was untrue.
And of course, it was. Sinnott hadn’t died. He was in a coma, however.
Such is some people’s desperation for likes, retweets and web traffic, that they didn’t think to fact check such sensitive information. Of course, you should be able to trust an official club account – but at the same time, who at that club has put that information out without being 100% sure of the facts? And even at the media outlets themselves, did they not find it odd that there was no official confirmation elsewhere, notably from the club he was due to be playing for at that very time.
Just as I had finished my duties reporting, a lengthy statement came through from the Police confirming the circumstances of the incident – Sinnott had been assaulted outside a pub, but wasn’t dead.
Tweets were quickly deleted, articles quickly amended; but they should never have been there in the first place.
Sinnott would tragically pass away a few hours later, around 7pm.
I hadn’t prepared a story in the meantime. I felt compelled to wait for Matlock’s official statement, which effectively came once his death was confirmed, and then used this as a basis for the league statement that went out later that night.
Bryant’s death the following day saw more widespread rumours and speculation that shouldn’t have happened.
Official news channels reporting his family were safe, when of course one tragically wasn’t.
Breaking news first does of course have its benefits – but when it comes to people, real people, losing loved ones; the facts are far more important.
Being right is more important than being first.