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Ever since the newspaper industry and TV began chasing the Internet Express, trying to catch up with the fast-changing way in which news was being gathered and reported, the news media’s credibility has sunk ever lower.

I don’t really know how it could have been avoided because if the old-line media organizations had not jumped on board — however awkwardly — they would have been left farther behind than they are. Still, this loss of credibility is just appalling to me and many other past and present members of the media.

What I’m talking about is the old media lowering the accuracy and editing bar that it had painstakingly established over generations. The first big belly dive into the mud occurred the night of the 2000 presidential election, when the major networks, including CNN and Fox, called Florida for Al Gore prematurely and later stamped George Bush as the winner of the presidential election — 19 days before the Florida vote count was certified and Bush declared the winner by 500 some votes.

As I recall, we at The Star were one of many news organizations that had Bush winning on our Web site. I believe that in the morning paper, we went with too close to call.

All in all, the media’s performance that night made the classic, 1948 Chicago Tribune headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman,” start to seem not so embarrassing in retrospect.

There have been many other erroneous, main-line-media Web site reports since the 2000 presidential election, but this week brought another new low: The Associated Press, The Boston Globe, CNN and Fox News all reported early Wednesday afternoon that an arrest had been made in the Boston bombings case, when, in fact, no arrest had been made.

A story by Bill Carter in yesterday’s New York Times said that CNN and Fox “spent about an hour discussing the news of an arrest with various correspondents and experts before backing off when they received further information.”

It was the same two networks that breathlessly reported — again erroneously — last June that the Supreme Court had overturned President Obama’s health-care-overhaul law.

I guess officials at some of these networks have come to the conclusion that if you don’t know for sure, run it anyway because it will seem to advance the story.

The last thing the network executives want, it seems, is anchors and reporters saying, “We’re waiting for new information.” The new credo at some networks and newspapers is There Can Be No Wait; It Must Be Now!

CNN’s John King was the first to set his network’s pants on fire when, at 12:45 p.m. Kansas City time, he reported that police had a bombing suspect in custody.

king

In his NYT story, Carter said that about 1:45 p.m., “one of CNN’s law enforcement experts…appeared on the air and reported and reported that he had three sources who assured him no arrest had been made.”

And how did CNN explain its screw-up? It issued this statement:

“CNN had three credible sources on both local and federal levels. Based on this information we reported our findings.”

Their “findings” were nothing more than “phantom findings,” and CNN should have apologized.

The Associated Press also didn’t see fit to extend its regrets about its messy reporting. Carter wrote: “Paul Colford, a spokesman for The Associated Press, said later in the afternoon that the news service did not ‘pull back’ from its original reporting, but only ‘added other reporting.’ ”

Well, now, that’s a fine kettle of fish, isn’t it? “Added other reporting…”

As the reactions of CNN and the AP indicate, the worst part of this “it-could-be-right-or-it-could-be-wrong” approach to Internet-era reporting is that there’s no need to apologize, no need to be embarrassed, just keep rolling out whatever some ding-dong whispers to the stressed-out, over-caffeinated reporters in the field.

Culminating his story, Carter quoted Judy Muller, a former network news correspondent who teaches journalism at the University of Southern California. She said:

“The rush to be first has so thoroughly swallowed up the principal of being right and first that it seems a little egg on the face is now deemed worth the risk.”

Quite often, people ask me if I miss working as a journalist. I always say that I don’t miss it at all and that I am happy to be out.

I respect the vast majority of journalists, especially my former Star colleagues, but I’ve got to say that when we started chasing the Internet back in the late 1990s, our “quality control” system — based on verified reporting, careful copy editing and several sets of eyes on every story in line for publication — quickly went to hell.

I could not come to grips with throwing under-reported, poorly edited stories up on the Web just to try to keep up with the local TV stations.

As a result of the free-wheeling reporting that has supplanted careful, verified reporting, the reputation of American journalism has, sorrowfully, slipped into a huge sinkhole, and I don’t know how it’s going to get out. It looks like it could go the route of that guy in Florida who was swallowed up by the earth and never resurfaced.

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All that is not to say that some newspapers and networks have not done great things in opening new doors afforded by the Internet. For example, perhaps you saw that The New York Times won four Pulitzer prizes this week, for stories published in 2012, including John Branch’s spectacular feature “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” I wrote admiringly about that story in December, a few days after it was published. I quoted Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic Wire Web, who said that the project “makes multimedia feel natural and useful, not just tacked on.”

The Times, with pockets deep enough to hire experts in every dimension of news gathering and presentation, has done the best job of melding newsprint journalism and electronic journalism. It also has resisted the urge, for the most part, to go with unverified reports in the race to be first on big stories. But, alas, even The Times got sucked in on the Bush “victory” on election night 2000.

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