When reports began to circulate on Twitter that Joe Paterno had died, the former Penn State coach quickly became a trending topic on Twitter and Google. Online interest ratcheted up a notch when CBSSports.com, citing the Penn State student Web site Onward State, reported Paterno had passed away.


Joe Paterno has died at the age of 85 - bit.ly/JOEPATERNO

— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 22, 2012

The reports would be refuted by other news organizations, and Paterno’s family.

Joe Paterno family spokesman tells New York Times that reports of Paterno’s death are “absolutely not true.”

— The Washington Post (@PostSports) January 22, 2012

CBS report is wrong - Dad is alive but in serious condition.We continue to ask for your prayers and privacy during this time.

— Scott Paterno (@ScottPaterno) January 22, 2012

I appreciate the support & prayers. Joe is continuing to fight.

— Jay Paterno (@JayPaterno) January 22, 2012

Joe Paterno is is failing, but reports that he has died are untrue. I wish there was a character to signal disgust.

— Sally Jenkins (@sallyjenx) January 22, 2012

Before the night was over the managing editor of Onward State stepped down. The organization had reported Paterno’s death early Saturday evening.

“I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your understanding. I am so very, very, sorry, and we at Onward State continue to pray for Coach Paterno,” Devon Edwards said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Jeff Sonderman of the Poynter Institute has a detailed blow-by-blow of repots of Paterno’s death. Sonderman traces the news to Onward State as having first tweeted the news.

A similar situation occurred in January 1999, when NBC reported that baseball great Joe DiMaggio had passed away. DiMaggio was still alive and, in fact, was watching NBC when they announced his death via a crawl across the bottom of the screen during a “Dateline NBC” broadcast. The network said a technician in its New York control room inadvertently sent the report.

DiMaggio lived another 41 days.

Screenshot of Google Trends at 10:27 pm.

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