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Scott Pelley: ‘We’re Getting the Big Stories Wrong, Over and Over Again’

Accepting his Fred Friendly First Amendment award this afternoon at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Club, CBS News anchor and managing editor Scott Pelley delivered an impassioned speech about the sorry state of journalism in 2013.

“Our house is on fire,” Pelley said of the business at large. “Never before in human history has more information been available to more people. But at the same time never before in human history has more bad information been available to more people.”

Pelley took “the first arrow,” recalling his own mistake over some of the early reporting out of Sandy Hook Elementary in December. Then he recounted early errors after the Boston Marathon was bombed. “We were attacked by terrorists on that day, and amateur journalists became digital vigilantes.”

Pelley joins 19 other TV journalists including Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, and, last year, Martha Raddatz, as Fred Friendly honorees. He told the crowd, which included his CBS News colleagues past and present, that “disruptive technologies” are partly to blame.

“Twitter, Facebook and Reddit: that’s not journalism. That’s gossip. Journalism was invented as an antidote to gossip.”

Pelley also took on the chest thumping that goes on in local and national newsrooms around the nation every day.

“How does it serve the public if we’re first?,” he asked, rhetorically. “You know what first is all about? It’s vanity. It’s self-conceit. No one’s sitting at home watching 5 TV monitors saying, ‘Oh they were first!’ That’s a game that we play in our control rooms. Maybe a touch of humility would serve us better.”

Spend the 10 minutes to watch Pelley’s speech. (Starts at 14 minutes in). We’ve also added a Vine from the event in which Pelley chats with former CBS News correspondent, Kimberly Dozier, now at the AP.

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