When Following Breaking News, Why it Helps to Think Like a Journalist
A lot is happening in Boston, just like a lot has happened in past months, including a lot of hype on the news, a lot of confusion, and the spread of quite some misinformation.
But eventually, the chase ends, the investigations close, the who, what, where, when, and how get answered, and the why gets speculated over until everyone agrees on a narrative that can help us digest the horror. The journey involves a lot of hype, and lot of (digital and analog) talk around the coffee-machine, Facebook feeds and Twitter channels. Some people end up very hurt, some people cynical, some people apathetic, some people clueless, some people motivated to help however they can.
So what can we take away from events like today in Boston? We can think about how we read about it. And in the era of everyone having a voice and a blog and the power to create content, it might help to think a little bit like a journalist.
We are collecting dots. It’s a day to be careful about connecting them.
— Steve Inskeep (@NPRinskeep) April 19, 2013
Breaking news creates an information fog. Mistakes are made as rumors are spread. Important though is to think about how we follow and consume news, and if we’re journalists ourselves, how we report — and when we report — the latest factoid that comes across our radar. As GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram writes, “Twitter shows how the news is made, and it’s not pretty — but it’s better that we see it.”
Here’s a two-step process for following breaking news, keeping the drama to a minimum, and finding voices who know what they are talking about:
1. Pick a place to get a regularly updated version of the big picture
If you don’t have cable or choose to stay online instead of on TV, you can watch CNN’s livestream here. Or, if you’re not at your computer and not in front of a TV but still want to listen in there are apps for that. For example, TuneIn Radio is available for the iPhone and iPad and gives you access to local, regional and global radio stations and broadcast network feeds. But keep in mind that they too get their stuff wrong sometimes, and if you’re watching TV (or reading the NY Post) you’re in for a lot of drama.
Examples of places to keep track of the big picture:
The Reuters live feed (see below)
2. Get on Twitter for primary sources and ask your own questions about it
It’s the place where news breaks these days and holds a ton of value in the discovery-of-information ecosystem. It’s my first stop, nearly always. But it’s also a space for misinformation to spread incredibly fast so knowing how to use it (and not abuse it) falls into the hands of us—the people on it. Think (like a journalist would) about who’s gonna have the (mostly like correct) valuable information on the situation. This morning we were following people like Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa, The Wall Street Journal’s Liz Heron and the Huffington Post’s Craig Kanalley. Even closer to the action, here’s a public list on Watertown put together by Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan.
But think: Who’s actually there? Follow news organizations for regular updates. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook too. You’ll get linked out to further resources as the events unfold without having to keep up with just one paper’s website up all day.
Google the local publications, namely the “Boston Globe”:http://www.bostonglobe.com and The Boston Herald. Who are the reporters on the story? Who’s the editor? Follow them on Twitter. Follow the police commissioner, the mayor.
Also, did you know you can listen to the police scanner itself? Here’s an app for that. Remember though, if listening to the police scanner you’re listening to people who are trying to figure things out as well. This is information fog. What is said on the scanner is not necessarily fact. It’s first responders trying to understand the situation they’re in. Also remember that there are ethical considerations when listening to a scanner. Just because you hear someone say something doesn’t mean that you should post it to your social network of choice. There are lives on the line in situations like this.
Finally, with so many rumors and posts swirling about, remember that much information will be wrong and a significant part of the entire process is to verify what we hear. To that end, remember that in times like these, some trolls create fake social media accounts.
If you really wanna get good at Twitter, Josh Stearns has a a guide on how to verify social media content.
Jihii Jolly is an associate producer at the Future Journalism Project who focuses on editorial production and social community development. She’s interested in journalism, the internet, Buddhism, ethics, and all how they connect. Currently, she’s pursuing an MS in Digital Media at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.