17 April 2013 Comments Off

Balancing speed and editorial judgment

There’s a great piece by Cory Bergman, general manager of Breaking News.com, on how his organization balances speed and editorial judgment.

Like many, I use Twitter as my “wire service” when news breaks–and it’s much faster than the wire services I’ve worked for, Reuters and The Associated Press. However, as was clear in the Boston bombing story, there’s a lot of chaff with the wheat, as rumors and misinformation crowd into my Twitter feed.

That’s why it’s so important to choose the people and institutions you follow with care. And that’s why Breaking News.com, among other trusted sources, is an important part of my Twitter feed and a go-to spot for fast, reliable breaking news.

Bergman puts it well:

At Breaking News, our goal is to balance speed with an editorial filter, keeping rumors at bay while incorporating hundreds of sources.  With the Boston story, we’re not quite as fast as Twitter (the crowd is always faster), but we provided a lightning-fast stream of coverage that avoided or downplayed nearly all incorrect reports, including a third explosion, a bombing at the JFK Library and a Saudi suspect in custody.

Here’s our technique: moments after the explosions, our editors tracked dozens of Boston news sources — news organizations, officials and eyewitnesses — looking for a new report on the story.  Just as on-the-ground news organizations compare sources before reporting new information, our editors compared these new reports with coverage from other news and official sources.

In this era of the constant, nonstop news cycle you have to have speed to compete, but you don’t have to check your journalist brain at the door. As Bergman writes, “there are red flags we have learned along the way,” and journalists who heed those flags, while reporting and publishing as quickly as possible, are the ones I trust.

As I’ve said before, news organizations are still locked into a kind of speed arms race, where scoops are measured in seconds or less. But surveys show the public isn’t all that impressed. Last year, a study found that only six percent of respondents believed being first to report a story was the most important factor in choosing a source for election news.

I don’t blame social media when exaggerated or just plain wrong information is reported. As we saw in the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, mainstream television reporters were quite capable of being very fast–and very wrong–in their reporting without any help from Twitter. But the speed that is enabled by social media makes it all that more important that journalists look for those red flags and use those reporting skills and skeptical minds–only faster.


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