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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tuscaloosa News bungles report of Ken Stabler’s death

Ken Stabler

Former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ken Stabler died on Thursday at the age of 69 following a battle with colon cancer.

Stabler, nicknamed “The Snake,” was a four-time Pro Bowler who helped lead the Raiders to a Super Bowl win in the 1976 season. He also won national championships at Alabama in the 1965 and ’66 seasons.

Many are mourning the death of the popular quarterback, whose passing did not come without journalistic issues.

The Tuscaloosa News published a draft about Stabler’s death before they had confirmed the news with multiple sources, and then they pulled the story.

They issued this statement about publishing too quickly:

“Preparing to report on an unconfirmed but wide and persistent rumor that former Alabama football player Kenny Stabler had died, tuscaloosanews.com inadvertently and briefly published an incomplete story that we were preparing in the event that the story was confirmed. At this time, it is not confirmed. Unfortunately, other news outlets used social media to share the report. We regret the error and any emotional distress caused to Stabler’s family, friends and fans.”

Reporter Aaron Suttles apologized for the confusion and wrote this statement about what happened:

Early this afternoon I received confirmation that former University of Alabama quarterback and Oakland Raider great Kenny Stabler passed away in Gulfport, Miss. My news organization, The Tuscaloosa News, requires that I obtain two, independent sources before I report any news. Being correct always takes precedent over being first in our newsroom. While I attempted to obtain the second, independent source, our web administrator accidentally published a rough draft of my story. He quickly realized his error, and took the story down immediately. Unfortunately our system is set up to tweet any new stories that are published. By the time the story was deleted, the tweet had gone out and the cat was out of the bag.

I’ve worked my entire career to earn your trust. I apologize that we failed you today. But most of all I apologize to the Stabler family. There is no excuse for what happened today. Our news organization takes full responsibility for our error.

The Stabler family later confirmed the death of the quarterback in a posting on Facebook, so The Tuscaloosa News was somewhat vindicated.

It has been a while since an outlet jumped the gun on reporting news of someone’s death, but it seems to happen somewhat frequently. These are such sensitive story topics, outlets should go to extra lengths to ensure they are not burying someone — literally — before they should.

Photo: Twitter/Raiders

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