“The Onward State tweet that erroneously reported Joe Paterno’s death Saturday night and led to an avalanche of false reports in other outlets was based on the work of two student reporters: One was snookered by a false email, and one overstated his knowledge of the events, according to the site’s co-founder.
A third student, Managing Editor Devon Edwards, decided to pull the trigger on the tweet. Edwards resigned Saturday night.
The independent, online-only, student-run site is an agile and highly collaborative organization with a staff of 30-50, including eight editors. Each story is run through two editors, and major decisions are hashed out among editors and reporters through Yammer, an internal messaging system.
The fateful tweet was no snap decision. The site has a complex editorial process that’s designed for the Web and has earned praise for its vision — but like any editorial process, it can easily be disrupted by bad reporting and pressure-packed situations.
“I’d have to say that this event … taught me how ego can be a very toxic thing for a news organization,” said Davis Shaver, who co-founded the site as a Penn State freshman in 2008. ‘Ego to act like you know something you don’t, ego to want to be the first person to break it.’