Classy Editor Resigns Over False Joe Paterno Death Story

On Saturday night, Twitter was abuzz with news of the death of legendary former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.

The story, released by Penn State’s student-run blog Onward State, was quickly tweeted around the Internet. Almost immediately, their story was being shared by many of the most trusted big-name reporters in the United States.

The problem, of course, was that the story was wrong.

Joe Paterno’s son pushed back on the story by tweeting out a correction which stated that his father was still alive, and other sources confirmed that Mr. Paterno was badly ailing, but alive.

Reports of Joe Paterno's death were incorrect. Photo Credit: The Washington Post

Devon Edwards, the Managing Editor of Onward State, responded quickly with a rather stunning statement that should serve as an example of a tone-perfect statement for executives in crisis. It appears in full below:

A Letter from the Managing Editor of Onward State

Earlier this evening, Onward State reported that Joe Paterno had passed away; however, the mountain of evidence stacked opposite that report became too much to ignore. At this time, I would like to issue an official retraction of our earlier tweets.

I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State might be cited by the national media. Today, I sincerely wish it never had been. To all those who read and passed along our reports, I sincerely apologize for having mislead you. To the Penn State community and to the Paterno family, most of all, I could not be more sorry for the emotional anguish I am sure we at Onward State caused. There are no excuses for what we did. We all make mistakes, but it’s impossible to brush off one of this magnitude. Right now, we deserve all of the criticism headed our way.

In this day and age, getting it first often conflicts with getting it right, but our intention was never to fall into that chasm. All I can do now is promise that in the future, we will exercise caution, restraint, and humility.

I can only hope and pray that the outstanding work our writers and photographers do on a day-to-day basis is not overshadowed by the events of tonight. I understand that our reputation is in serious question, but I hope you will continue to stand by us as we do everything in our power to make amends.

To begin that process, I will be stepping down from my post as Managing Editor, effective immediately. I take full responsibility for the events that transpired tonight, and for the black mark upon the organization that I have caused.

I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your understanding. I am so very, very, sorry, and we at Onward State continue to pray for Coach Paterno.

Sincerely,

Devon Edwards

 

Not everyone needs to step down over a crisis. That Mr. Edwards (a college senior) chose to do so is a remarkably rare act of journalistic integrity. Not only is his statement is pure class, but it honored at least five of the seven truths of a crisis.

Well done, Mr. Edwards.

UPDATE: January 22, 2012, 12:49pm: According to a statement from the Paterno family, Joe Paterno passed away early this morning. Family members occasionally conceal a high-profile death for a few hours to allow them to notify close friends and family and have a few last moments of privacy. I have no information about whether or not that happened in this case, but it’s a story worth pursuing. If it turns out that Mr. Edwards was right, he should not only keep his job, but be commended for his scoop. If he was off – by even a few hours – he should stand by his original statement and not try to regain his old post.