Las Vegas Guardian Express
December 12, 2013
On the morning of June 26, we received a message from one of our South African correspondents, Laura Oneale that Nelson Mandela had passed away the previous evening. The news had come to her in the form of a text message from an acquaintance who was well-placed in the South African media. It should be understood that this organization was not authorized to break the news. Clearly, the South African government and the Mandela family had already decided that the news would not be made public. Undoubtedly, this decision had been made even before his death; at least, that’s what we were thinking.
Our assumption, at the time, was two-fold: firstly, we doubted that such news would not long escape the attention of the international media, even if the South African media was being muzzled. As is the nature of the news media industry, we saw that we had been handed a major scoop and that our window of opportunity to be the first to break this news was limited. Cynical? Perhaps, but we did not doubt the integrity of the source, given that individual’s position. We are in the news business. What other publication – given the gravity of the story and the knowledge of Mandela’s health condition – would not have immediately prepared to publish? We began both to work on a couple of articles and to seek out verification. We found no other corroborating evidence. We wrote our stories.
In the interests of being completely honest, we cannot say that we did not second – guess ourselves. Did we have direct, first-hand proof that Nelson Mandela was dead? No, we didn’t. One must look at how news stories are broken, though: A media publication receives information from a trusted source; every good faith attempt is made to verify the information. In the absence of verification, the editor or editorial team must make a decision to publish or not to publish. What we did have was the best source we could have, other than first-hand, eye-witness testimony. Moreover, Mandela was seriously ill; according to reports, the icon and former African leader was on his deathbed; hooked up to medical devices that enabled him to breathe.
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