Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

Curated knowledge, trenchant insights & witty bon mots

More on the challenges of covering breaking news in real time

Several more good posts showed up in my Twitter feed today, talking about the Boston bombings and covering breaking news. I excerpt them here for your edification and enjoyment.

Here is an earlier collection.

Columnist Jack Shafer from Reuters (‘In defense of journalistic error‘), posted on April 22:

Journalists don’t need to dip into a box labeled “Half-truths and Innuendo” to make mistakes: Screwing up has been integral to the reporting of timely news for a long time , no matter how sterling a news organization’s standards, as this recent American Journalism Review feature by Paul Farhi documents. In 2002, the last year for which I have collected the numbers, the gold-standard Times confessed to 2,867 corrections, compared with the Washington Post‘s 1,006 and the Chicago Tribune‘s 678. In all likelihood, the Times error count soared because 1) it routinely addresses more difficult stories; 2) has more intelligent readers around the world probing its stories for goofs; and 3) has for more than a decade made the error-correction process easier than other outlets, such as the Washington Post, whose ombudsman, Michael Getler, accused the Post of institutional suppression of corrections in a 2003 column (paid).

Error tallies, such as the one above, don’t demonstrate that news reporting is a particularly error-prone enterprise but that the business and its customers have come to an unspoken agreement of how perfect the news product must be. Near-perfect news could be printed and broadcast if reports were vetted and peer-reviewed for weeks or months before publication. But readers desire timely “journalism in lieu of dissertation,” to pinch Edgar Allan Poe‘s succinct phrase, and willingly accept a certain level of error as long as the news organizations readily acknowledge their mistakes. Most of us accept minuscule failure rates when buying a new car or refrigerator, knowing that some will fail us in surprising and unpredictable ways. Likewise, we make a similar bargain at the dinner table, accepting low levels of mercury and arsenic in the food we eat and the water we drink, as long we’re kept informed and the low levels do not cause illness. …

All that being said, Shafer noted that with today’s two-way Web, readers are becoming more demanding, speaking out when they encounter inaccurate reporting.

As the Washington Post’s former publisher, Philip L. Graham, was fond of repeating, journalism is the first rough draft of history. Tough readers who demand more and better from journalists help drive errors down and correction rates up, helping improve the second rough draft of history.

J-prof and author Jeff Jarvis, in an April 22 post (‘And now the news: Here’s what we *don’t* know at this hour…‘) at his blog:

I often tell my students that where they see a problem, they should find the opportunity. Well, we’ve been told over and over this weekend that we had a big problem with misinformation after the Boston Marathon bombing. Breaking news, haven’t you heard, is broken.

So I see an opportunity, a big journalistic opportunity. I also tell my students this:

* Journalism should add value to a flow of information that can now occur without media’s mediation — verifying facts, vetting witnesses, debunking rumors, adding context, adding explanation, and most of all asking and answering the questions that aren’t in the flow, that aren’t being asked, i.e., reporting. Let’s acknowledge reality: There’s no stopping or fixing that flow. What witnesses see will be shared for all to see, which is good, along with rumors, rank speculation, and the work of the New York Fucking Post, which is bad.

* The key skill of journalism today is saying what we *don’t* know, issuing caveats and also inviting the public to tell us what they know. Note I didn’t say I want the public to tell us what they *think* or *guess.* I said *know*.

So the opportunity: If I ran a news organization, I would start a regular feature called, Here’s what you should know about what you’re hearing elsewhere.

In New York on the weekend, the Social Media Summit (#smsnyc), the topic of verification came up, reported David Hayward of the BBC College of Journalism. Here are some suggestions from the audience:

  • A colour-coded system for rating verification. People and organisations are rated on their ability to verify content and information: green, high; red, low
  • Verified and trusted organisations get more space on Twitter
  • Don’t tweet unless you have something to say
  • Embed trusted journalists in Reddit to curate the material
  • News organisations have a duty to provide a guide/code of conduct to help people to understand ethical reporting
  • Errors proliferate quickly – there should be a correction function that can move as quickly
  • Automatic buttons to provide rights to use photos/content for 48 hours around major news stories
  • Algorithm ratings if you correct or verify material
  • Metadata should follow pictures
  • Don’t report rumour/speculation
  • An eBay-style trust/verification rating system for individual users
  • Credit-style rating systems for news organisations, similar to Moody’s/Fitch
  • Set up a verification task force
  • Use of the hastag #unv for unverified material
  • Have a verification button – saying what and how people have verified the material
  • Barometer for verification – can Twitter provide a heatmap/dashboard?
  • Down grade unverified content so it doesn’t show up on a social search
  • Warning of graphic images.

Hayward noted that some would be easier to implement than others.

Journalist Josh Stearns posted a link to some curated convos on a system for real time accuracy and verification on Twitter.

Mon, April 22 2013 » Main Page, Media