Local News

Sources Say Media Misfired on Williams Story

Posted July 6, 2000

— Getting the story first does not always mean getting it right.

Reading Durham'sHerald-Sunnewspaper Thursday, many Carolina fans started planning the welcome party for Kansas coach Roy Williams. Those people might feel jilted after his decision to stay in the Midwest.

After all, "sources" said Williams' arrival was a done deal.

The Herald-Sun's headline screamed, "Williams says 'Yes' to Heels." Sources said the Kansas University coach agreed to a seven-year deal with UNC.

When Williams announced his decision to stay at Kansas, he mentioned the paper's faux pas.

"You know, in Durham the last couple of days, they've printed what they wanted to print," he said at hisThursday night press conference.

For a week, various media outlets reported Williams would be Bill Guthridge's replacement at Carolina. UNC Sports Information Direction Steve Kirschner tried to spread the truth.

"This was a time when we said, 'No, you're not right,'" Kirschner said. "People went along with [the false reports] anyway."

The Herald-Sun said they had three reliable sources giving the paper information. Chuck Stone, a UNC journalism professor, said a source's information is not necessarily the truth.

"The only source you can rely on is an unimpeachable source," Stone said.

In this case, those sources might have been written contracts, a letter in the Williams' own words, stating that he was coming, or Williams himself telling people that he would be the new coach.

The Williams saga is not the first time the media has jumped the gun with bad information. When Carolina football coach Carl Torbush's job was on the line in 1999, several media outlets -- including WRAL -- reported sources' information that he would be fired. Instead, the University decided to keep him.

Kirschner is concerned that journalistic integrity is falling by the wayside.

"I don't think the mainstream media anymore is just reporting the news," Kirschner said. "I think it's part entertainment. I think it's part trying to be first. I think it's partly a rush to judgment.

Bad information may be a consequence of aggressive reporting.

Stone believes increasing competition in the media is making speed, not accuracy, the top priority in critical news decisions.

"We're so anxious to compete, to succeed, to be number one," he said. "That consumes us to the detriment of our credibility."

The Herald-Sun says it will more careful with sources in the future. The paper's managing editor plans a Saturday column to address the coverage of Williams' decision.

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