The breaking news blues

In the aftermath of yet another breaking news frenzy on Twitter (Asiana plane crash at SFO), Matthew Ingram again argues that we better get used to chaos — or get off Twitter. His mantra:  This is just the way news works now. 

I personally have a love/hate relationship with Twitter and breaking news.  As a former police reporter, I grimace when I see all the blemishes of real-time reporting displayed for the world. Yet, as a news junkie, I just can’t look away.

But I agree with Ingram. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. And he makes some good points about the amount of good information and informed debate on Twitter as the news broke (even the National Transportation Board got into the act by tweeting photos of the crash site).

In effect, anyone following the event in real time has had as much or more information than they could have gotten from any traditional news source.

And in arguing that the news ecosystem has permanently shifted, he also points out that the change might not be as dramatic — or ominous — as we might think.

The reality is that a breaking news event like a plane crash or a bombing is an inherently chaotic situation, and no one really has a firm command of the facts, including the first responders and emergency workers who are on the scene and talking about the event on the police scanner. That maelstrom of conflicting information used to be hidden behind the walls of the command station or the walls of the newspaper and TV newsrooms reporting on the event — but now, thanks to Twitter, it is everywhere.

So what does the “new normal” mean for news organizations? I don’t think it means they simply throw up their hands and carry on as they have been. Acting like the adults in the room would help. In the heat of the moment, I believe restraint and thoughtful consideration definitely have a place in social media, and more news organizations would be wise to foster that expectation in the newsroom.   

But to be more proactive — and ultimately relevant and helpful in the chaos — I think media organizations need to step up their game and do a better job of curating, fact-checking and explaining the fast-moving information.  

As a consumer, I’d like to see more “here’s what we know now” stories as news breaks.  Providing background and perspective is what news organizations do well. Perhaps, “context is king” should be the rallying cry going forward with regard to breaking news.

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