Morrison: Burns deserves better

Getting a story wrong is bad under any circumstance for the media, but when it involves someone's life, as it did with ex-NHL coach Pat Burns on Friday, it is that much worse.

Not to make light of a grave situation, but rather to make a point, for the first time in my nearly three decades in the media, I spoke with the dead Friday.

At least the media had reported he was dead.

But Pat Burns sounded fine, all things considered.

Fine, that is, but also quite bothered by the second round of premature reports of his death.

If you missed it, there was a Twitter report late Friday morning that Burns, who is battling cancer for the third time and is not doing well, had died. The erroneous report spread like wildfire, picked up by assorted media outlets on both sides of the border, re-tweeted or misreported on websites and airwaves and anywhere bad information will stick.

Few, it seems, opted to first confirm the story. What a concept.

To say the least, Friday was not a banner day for the media.       

Getting a story wrong is bad under any circumstance, but when it involves someone's life it is that much worse. We understand that mistakes happen, or bad information gets passed along disguised as the truth, but facts still have to be checked. It is that basic and simple.

In the case of Burns, who is at peace with the knowledge that his time is short, he was less concerned about himself than he was with the horrible impact the reports again had on his family, which is already going through an emotional wringer.

Indeed, the basic tenet of journalism — get it first, but first get it right — took a beating Friday. All of which raises another issue about the need to break the news of a person's passing in the first place.

Where is the win in being first with the news that someone has died? Should the family not have the right to privacy, should the person not deserve the respect for that announcement to come from the family at the appropriate time, when they are comfortable to release it?

I have never believed a family should have to be answering the phone from the media wondering if their loved one has passed yet. That is simply wrong.

In the case of Burns, he is home with his family dealing with his situation as best as he can for all involved. He deserves better than to have to endure what he did Friday.