I happened to be in one Gulf Coast town that had pretty much dodged a bullet. It had seen a few scattered tar balls a week earlier but nothing since. When I walked the beach I saw white sand, clear water, and no sign of oil.
While we were setting up a resident came up to me and asked why we were reporting the fact that the beaches were "oil soaked" when no oil was in sight. I explained that we weren't the only media in town, and someone else had obviously made a terrible mistake.
Later that day I walked by a young reporter doing a live shot and overheard him say that the beaches were loaded with tar balls. When he was done I approached him and asked why he had reported that when there was nothing in sight. The answer blew me away.
"I saw it on the local news."
Wow. Let me get this straight... you work for a major news organization and you can't walk fifty feet down the beach to look for yourself?
Needless to say, that false report spread like wildfire and really hurt the tourism for that town. All because a reporter had been too lazy to check things out himself.
We saw this during the Tucson shooting. Someone reports something, so it must be true. And when you don't check the facts, you end up looking silly.
During coverage of major stories, crews often discuss what was overheard and what rumors are floating around. But we always check things out before reporting anything.
You may arrive late to a story and pick up some information from other crews. Or you may find some stories on the Internet while doing research. Bottom line, all facts that you report need to be checked. By you.