By Michael O’Connell
Here’s a nice summary of some the issues surrounding the coverage of the Aug. 24, 2012, shooting at the Empire State Building in New York City. It was written by Jeff Sonderman for Poynter.
This was a fascinating story to watch unfold on Twitter. The curtain was pulled back on the journalistic process, exposing its many strengths and weaknesses. A lot of incorrect information was being reported and repeated as events unfolded and reporters sought out confirmation of the real facts behind the story. There was this rush, by both digital journalists and witnesses, to post and repeat content quickly.
Covering a breaking story like this can be hectic and, in the past, when it was only professional journalists controlling the pace and focus of a story a lot of the issues/choices that are now being debated would have been weighed with the luxury of time — time to write something for broadcast or print, time for an editor to consider the implications of showing a graphic photo. But we no longer have that luxury. We no longer have that control.
Certainly, we can still write our well thought-out, fact-checked story for the web, print or broadcast, but in the instant of an event, it’s just the judgment of the journalist (professional or citizen) who matters. Do you Tweet out that questionable photo? Do you retweet or publish on your website a graphic image tweeted by a citizen journalist?
This definitely speaks for the need to use some sort of standards or best practices. I’m not calling for new constraints for digital journalists, but established news outlets already have policies that should cover a lot of these issues.
As for citizen journalists, there’s not much we can do to control what they do — not that I’m advocating that — we just have to do what we’ve always done in the past, check our sources, apply our journalistic standards and think before acting. If there’s a questionable photo, don’t let the rush to be first force a poor decision.