Chris Blackhurst last week said The Independent published the news about the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha two hours before it was being widely reported – but took it down immediately.
Editor Blackhurst said that while print journalists were trying to verify the story, it was put online within five minutes before being removed.
He said the incident highlighted a compromise that The Independent is not willing to make – accuracy for speed.
“Somebody on our digital side put the story up straight away with a comment. And immediately people saw this and there was quite a lot of activity on Twitter,” he said.
“The point was that the person who wrote the comment really didn’t know the facts – because nobody at that stage knew the facts.
“It came down immediately once we realised what had happened.”
Blackhurst then had a “strange philosophical debate” about what was more important – speed or accuracy.
“We’re The Independent. Even if it means coming second, third or fourth – or even tenth – we can’t sacrifice our accuracy for that,” he said.
“Obviously if we had got the story up first and the reaction then that would have gone all over the world, the number of hits for our website would have been fantastic… there would have been high fives all round, et cetera, et cetera.
“And that really is the issue the internet causes. It’s about being first – you have to be first.”
Speaking after watching Lord Justice Leveson deliver a lecture in Melbourne, where he discussed the problem of the internet and mainstream media, he said the judge seemed just as “baffled” as everyone else on the subject.
Blackhurst said: “I think what really ought to happen is that the government law makers around the world need to sit down and sort it out. Because we’re going to have far more instances like that.”
Speaking at law firm FSI, The Independent editor said the lecture confirmed in his mind that Leveson “has produced a report for the 20th century and completely ignored the 21st”.
In his lecture, “Hold the front page: Newsgathering in a time of change”, Leveson said that bloggers and tweeters should be subject to the same laws as the mainstream media, despite not having as much influence.
He also suggested that competition from online sources “may encourage unethical and potentially unlawful practices to get a story”.