Are We More Informed With Real Time Journalism?

Friday afternoon I was asked to join a conversation that had started on Twitter.

Here are the initial questions:

Needless to say, there was plenty of discourse about this. There were comments from journalists, public relations professionals, and others.

My response was:

I also added: “Too often what’s reported is scanner traffic, rumor or just simply not true. Then it gets RTed (re-tweeted). Not good for anyone.”

My point is, it’s great to get real time information, but before you blast it to the world — and these days with Twitter, Facebook, blogs and even basic websites it’s easy to do — make sure it’s right. Do some fact checking. Call more than one source. See if the person/group/company behind the news will comment.

Maybe you don’t have time for all of that initially, but it is your due diligence to make sure what you are sending out is accurate. Hint: Scanner traffic isn’t always accurate.

I used an example of when Tom Brady got into his accident. There was so much misinformation being spread, mostly via Twitter, that it was laughable. Only it wasn’t, because what happens is those messages get posted over and over again on hundreds of people’s accounts. So soon enough thousands of people see what is incorrect information and think it’s true.

I came back to this discussion a full four days later because this morning I found out the man who owned the Segway company died while riding a Segway.

As a Manchester, New Hampshire native, I am keenly aware as to who invented the Segway. His name is Dean Kamen. He is not the same man who died while riding the Segway.

However, there were plenty of people posting on Twitter that “the Segway inventor died.” No, he’s alive and well.

Even Roger Ebert got it wrong (and his message was retweeted 100+ times):

He at least used the name and the article to which he linked calls Heselden the “tycoon that took over Segway firm.” But that just goes to my point even more.

It’s about details. You need to pay attention to them. Yes, it’s great to be the first person with the message, but not if it’s wrong. That’s simply irresponsible.

Do you think real time journalism has made us better informed?


9 responses to “Are We More Informed With Real Time Journalism?

  1. Totally agree, Kara: I always say that as the distribution of news changes, we don’t need to change the journalism. The old skills and ethics that have applied for years apply today. The circulation has changed. That said, I do some facetious tweets of stuff I overhear on the scanner. But I tag it as such and don’t try to pass it off as news, just weird stuff you overhear. The real news needs to be checked. My favorite is when Bill Cosby has had to tell people he hasn’t died, which has happened several times on Twitter.

  2. Nice read Kara, another great example is the recent reports of the death of former NHL coach Pat Burns, who CTV in Ottawa and the Toronto Sun, both well known and credible sources, reported died a couple of weeks ago. The problem? Well, he hadn’t died. He was still alive and with his family in Quebec.

    The best and worst parts of Twitter are the same, it’s an incredibly way to spread information, or misinformation. I feel the bigger issue is the need to get info out their first. The days of “getting a second source” are basically just for the journalism classes. This isn’t a wait and see business, if you think you have something, you run with it. And thanks to Twitter you have the means to get the info out to a worldwide audience at incredible speeds.

  3. The advocates of citizen journalism, who resist fact checking and other journalistic discipline, opting instead for the “jolt” of immediacy, fail to realize that what they are putting out is editorial at best, misinformation at worst. When challenged, some will argue, “we can always issue a retraction.” Retractions, as we all know seldom garner the headlines of the original post/story, normally appearing in smaller type and far into content. Kudos to you for a responsible piece. It’s not journalism – real news – unless it’s journalistically correct and vetted.

  4. Yes and no. I believe in posting the scanner traffic. Some inaccurate info does creep through. And details are needed. Sometimes the crowd fills in the details and checks the facts.

    But we need to rely on journalists to filter out the noise and slow down the information. Yes, slow it down. These days journalists have to compete with each other for scoops and the readers – thanks to social networking. The only way to compete is to own the story. And we own it by reporting the accurate facts, providing fair analysis and advancing it.

  5. Kara,
    Great topic. We tweet some scanner traffic via @sjscannerland but also do fact check anything we decide to report as news. The scannerland twitter account was set up more to tweet the odd but interesting communications we here. There are some news sites that actually stream online live scanner traffic, there’s at least one service out there doing that I know of. I think it provides viewers, readers, listeners with a bit of the raw data we work with but totally agree it shouldn’t be presented as insta facts.
    At the Sun Journal we also tweet @sjconezone to advise followers of road conditions, traffic or construction.
    I totally agree with you on this topic and hope more people read this blog.
    In a 24/7 news environment it’s is problematic at best to be first but also the need to be right is critical. I’ve always said I would rather be last and accurate than first and wrong. Even so we all make mistakes or get caught up in the moment.
    The citizen journalist bloggers add a great deal to the volume of information, much of it relevant and useful, but their information needs to be treated like any information a professional journalists gathers — it should be vetted and fact checked before being reported as fact. Also commentary, opinion should be clearly tagged – or be apparent it is such. Thinking entertainment sites or shows like, “The Onion.”
    My concern/fear is that people have turned off their minds to hearing the information they don’t really want to hear and instead are living in a world where they only seek out the information, from sources, that affirm their personal world view and beliefs.
    Part of our mission statement is to “challenge and reflect” the communities we serve. Granted that doesn’t always mean the communities we serve are happy about that. But I also tend to believe that credibility isn’t necessarily a popularity contest.
    Thanks for making us think about it. It should be on our minds with every story we take on. Good journalism and leadership by example. Kudos to you!

    Scott Thistle

  6. Hi Kara,
    Great discussion! Jeff Cutler (@jeffculter) is passionate about the difference between “citizen journalism” and “citizen reporting.” The firehose of information during a breaking news story is “reporting:” great for “eyes at the scene” observations. The journalism part comes in the filter of fact-checking, verifying sources, vetting rumors, and applying the code of ethics that journalists follow.
    Citizen reporting will continue and expand, and it will play an increasingly important role in my field of emergency management and crisis response. I think it’s important to continue to educate people about the difference between reporting and journalism.

  7. Honestly for me the answer is no. I know I’m not more informed with real time journalism. I understand the need to get information out for public interest and the completive nature of getting the scoop, but isn’t it best to say very little until the facts are developed? Twitter is a great tease, but it has to lead somewhere. News organizations need to have facts first then develop the story. When there is breaking news, I want to know who, what, where, and how. I want the story not fragments of it that keep changing by the moment. I’m willing to wait; solid facts are worth the wait. The story of the boy who cried wolf keeps popping into my head. Folks get wary of this sort of thing. At least I do.

  8. Social Media creates a digital trail that allows us to document the spread of information like never before. It also certainly allows that information to spread farther and faster than ever. There’s always been false rumor and honest misinformation; it’s just that we now see it online instead of hearing it at the water cooler or watering hole.

    Professional journalists are invaluable to an informed society – never more so than now, when everyone with a smartphone or computer is a “reporter” – with a small “r”. We need people we can trust to research and report facts.

    Nice post, Kara – keep up the great work!

  9. While I don’t write news stories, I’ve read a lot of news in various media over a lot of years. I think the point has been made above that validation and perhaps citing of sources must be done by the professional journalist. And as sort of a counter, I think it not good for a journalist, or publisher, to seek sanction or approval (not input) from the readers. We’ve seen that recently in the PPH debacle over Ramadan. If I could briefly define journalism, it would be “to seek and share truth as best one can.”

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