Lessons from Arizona shooting

There’s been much reflection already on lessons from the breaking news coverage of the Arizona shooting tragedy.

I read Dan Gillmor’s thoughtful Salon piece about taking a slow news approach and both Craig Silverman and Scott Rosenberg did an excellent job of threading together the collected wisdom around correcting an error

I know from past experience how divisive breaking news alerts can be. For some they are not worth the candle, for others they miss the mark editorially, and still others like to be “in the loop” even if the relevance factor for them is off-beam.

Is the time now right for a different approach from news organisations to breaking news; a system where different flow rates of information are delivered to individuals depending on preference, via their mobiles?

I’m envisaging a news motorway where “slow lane” items are double-sourced, checked and verified independently by us; in effect, the standard we operate now (though not across all items and all news rooms, it has to be said).

The “fast lane” would be the equivalent of us exposing our inner workings, making visible the information that’s coming to us but is still “in check”; we’d be making people aware we’d heard about it and let them know “we’re working on it”.

This wouldn’t be a place for rumour, heard-on-the-top-deck-of-the-bus type items, but it would feature attributed, selected, single-sourced agency content. And it would have to be clearly signposted as “In Check”.

Gambling on accuracy for the sake of speed is never a comfortable judgement for news organisations. We want to be right every time.

Sacrificing brand reputation on the altar of being first is risky and potentially damaging – you only have to look at the sackcloth apology from NPR’s Executive Editor Dick Meyer to see that.

But we do live in a world where, as he acknowledges, information and misinformation move at light speed.

Gillmor, too, recognises the natural human instinct at play during big breaking news events: “We all want to know what’s going on and the bigger the calamity is, the more we want to know”.

Reflections from Tucson may act as a brake on the news cycle but it will be only temporary; I think we need to explore new tools, new ideas and let the audience decide whether they want life to come to them in the slow or the fast lane.


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