On Sunday, for a good hour and a half, the front page of The Tennessean's website declared country legend Ray Price dead.
This meant that his wife, Janie, had to take time away from her bedside vigil of this poor dying man to take to Facebook to report that though he's doing poorly and is, in fact, dying, news of his passing was premature.
Let's be clear: having a story about Ray Price ready to go was smart. The man is dying and he's had an illustrious career. It's good to have something written ahead of time that pays proper tribute to the man to use when he does die. Peter Cooper is an excellent choice to have penned that story.
But why would the story saying Ray Price died run before the man was dead? I know why Peter Cooper says the story ran, "Price’s son, Cliff Price had written of his passing on Facebook, but was not at Price’s bedside when he posted. Price’s wife, Janie Price, is at his side and confirms that he is alive." But it seems like a son's grief on Facebook should be a reason to pick up a phone and talk to a family spokesperson, not to publicly declare a man dead.
I don't blame The Tennessean for this. I put the blame solely on Gannett, who seems to run all its papers with a "do more with less" philosophy. In a perfect world, The Tennessean would have a handful of people who knew the country music industry working at the paper and, even on a Sunday afternoon, one of them would have known how to get a hold of someone who could confirm what was being said on Facebook.
But they have cut to the bone and now here we are — with the wife of a dying man having to step away from his bedside to correct Nashville's biggest news outlet, because someone took the Facebook feed of a man in grief as gospel.
There are lessons that Gannett should learn here — like about making sure your paper has the resources it needs to do the job it needs to do and how being accurate is more important than being quick — but I have a feeling that's not going to happen. But maybe we can learn a smaller lesson, and that is that, when someone is dying, it's messy and confusing and their loves ones have messy and confused feelings. When you read something on Facebook or some other outlet where a grieving person is speaking freely and not in some kind of official capacity, perhaps it's best to make sure that person isn't mistaken.