“the noise of unsourced chatter, drowning out the signal of fully sourced newsgathering”

Slugger will be 15 years old in June. About two to three years in we found ourselves in a position were we would not infrequently break news, largely because our readers were often just slightly ahead of the more plodding newsrooms of the day.

It was never an intentional value, and when Twitter and Facebook algorithms intervened crowdsource breaking news far more quickly and comprehensively than was humanly possible, we never ever tried to compete.

Our hidden value has not been just our quickness and lightness but that other of Calvino’s values for the new Millennium, multiplicity, exactitude and consistency. Richard Sambrook has a warning for those journalist addicts of Twitter and Facebook:

Like many news addicts, I was watching Twitter as the attack and aftermath unfolded. Shortly after 6pm, before Channel 4 News was on the air, I saw two American journalists offer the name along with an archive picture of him compared to pictures of Wednesday’s attacker saying “Looks like the same guy”. Other international news services followed suit – those tweets have now been deleted.

The point about social media is, even when it appears to come from established journalists, it often amounts to little more than bar talk. It’s raw gossip or information which still requires the editorial disciplines of verification. It is the noise of unsourced chatter, drowning out the signal of fully sourced newsgathering.

Mistakes such as Channel 4’s (and I only single it out as the most recent transgressor – any news organisation is vulnerable) occur for a mix of reasons. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, there is a premium – misplaced in my view – on being first. Actually, most consumers are not monitoring parallel feeds and have little idea of who is first – and care less. Exclusivity in today’s second-by-second news cycle lasts moments at best.

Added to this is the need to have impact – to demonstrate the value of your programme or news feed above all others. And this is compounded by shrinking budgets and resources as advertising declines and the need to invest in more and more digital platforms erodes the core mission. In this climate, short cuts can seem attractive.

He concludes that despite the newness of the digital landscape, it ain’t all rocket science.. “news organisations… need to cling to some old principles that have guided newsgathering over many years”:

  1.  In the immediate aftermath of a breaking news event, much information will be wrong
  2. Don’t trust secondary or single source.
  3. Assume nothing, trust nobody, check everything twice

And I would add another two: one, build news in threads like hyperlinked memory extenders; and two, treat archives as a navigational resource to help you through the ‘oh shiny’ distractions of the ‘tumultuous now’.

  • Paul Culloty

    Saw similar doing the rounds on Wednesday – remarkably prescient, as it proved:


  • Brian Walker

    Congratulations on a terrific achievement Mick. Don’t know how you did it as a near solo effort until quite recently.

    God knows what reporting the Troubles would have been like if we had had 24 news coverage and social media! On the one hand it would have made the lives of me and my reporter colleagues infinitely easier. On the road all we had was ropey RT that couldn’t reach over hills. broken phone boxes or the goodwill or otherwise of phone owners.
    On the other hand I doubt if live coverage of ongoing events would have legally survived. Wrong rumours were bad enough. The Scarman inquiry of 1969 ruled that a report of an attack on Young Orangemen from the Catholic Unity flats at the bottom of Peter’s Hill had been completely false. It sparked major rioting and days of tension.

    In 1974 we ran live almost continuous news of tbe developing UWC strike that brought down the first power sharing Executive. We got hell’s abuse for stoking the flames.

    Today not only have we near instant breaking news but we have the false news phenomenon and a tsunami of comment.

    Fact checking, a working economic model for Newspapers on line, platform owners required to act as publishers are all measures we need to adopt.

    Citizen journalism is great. Experts in their own field can offer different information and insight. But good reporting needs more investment to keep the tower of Babel even slightly respectable. Fortunately people are learning to discriminate. They’ve had plenty of experience with newspapers.

  • Gavin Smithson

    Tell me, do you sit and monitor this 24/7 or do you use software to remove posts with certain naughty words?

    It’s a great forum and thank u for providing it. Not your fault of course but one criticism is that is a little nationalist oriented. Then again, conservative types don’t really go online much. Dunno why

  • Nevin

    “treat archives as a navigational resource”

    Treat archives with caution. For example, CAIN is a well known archive of the conflict yet there’s no mention of Douglas Hurd’s meeting with ‘Martin and Mitchel’ in or near Derry on November 5, 1993. When I heard that he was opening a deep-water facility at Lisahally my antenna noted that that was an unlikely activity for the then Foreign Secretary and boss of MI6.

  • Zig70

    Nationalist in the editorial or by commentators?

  • Nevin

    “Assume nothing, trust nobody, check everything twice”

    We all have very different built in news filters as a consequence of our acquired prejudices and experiences. Many will also acknowledge that older forms of communication to the masses are themselves polluted by the prejudices of owners, editors and journalists. It was so much easier back in the day for folk of power and influence to control what we read and viewed: a phone call to the editors could stymie a story or a pack of lies could be substituted for the truth. Power relationships are still very unequal but there are now greater opportunities for alternative, possibly timid voices to be heard.

  • mickfealty

    Both, I think.

  • mickfealty

    Short answer is that the culture of engagement we’ve worked hard to set is largely self reinforcing. Lack of unionist voices has been the bane of Slugger’s life.

  • mickfealty

    Tin foil hat, on!! ? ?

  • Nevin

    If the hat fits, Mick!

  • ted hagan

    Sluuger O’Toole half-term report:
    ‘Good work of a high standard. Well done’.

  • Gavin Smithson

    As I said, thank you for your hard work and for providing this forum

  • AntrimGael

    I think the comments are fairly mixed with a good representation of Unionist/Loyalist opinions. Does Slugger try and make up for what you believe is ‘a lack if unionist voices’ by being more or overly critical of Sinn Fein/Gerry Adams etc ?

  • David McCay

    Congratulations Mick – 15 years is some achievement – nothing else out there quite like Slugger ! I’ve been reading for more years than I care to remember, from Kinlough, Cootehill, London, Singapore, Mumbai, Shanghai, & now Chicago. Sometimes waaay too much, sometimes falling away a bit, sometimes agreeing with what I read, sometimes disagreeing, always learning a little more about others’ perspectives. Though I comment only very infrequently (and have been banned only once I think :-)), it really is an invaluable resource which helps me feel connected to what’s going on at home, helps me challenge my assumptions and beliefs, and teaches me a little more about the political life and future of ‘home’. So thank you ! Derrydave.

    ps I still do think that you are overly critical of republicans due to the perceived nationalist bias of Slugger – though maybe that’s no bad thing really 😉

  • Cosmo

    well done, appreciate this site, greatly. Class act.

  • AndyB

    I find it weird at best when the media publish things that reading the first link in google would show was untrue. While I am knowledgeable, I see too much that doesn’t pass the “knowing the first thing” test.

    That said, of course the truth is fighting a battle with the “publish and be damned” attitude that knows few people will see any climbdown achieved…

  • Clanky

    One of the things which I think has made Slugger so successful is the idea of plurality, that we can have different opinions, that those opinions are all valid points of view, but that they are all open to criticism.

    If Northern Ireland as whole could move towards that then we would be a lot better off. Why can people not call it Derry, and accept that others want to call it Londonderry, why can people not call it Northern Ireland Ulster and at the same time accept that, to some, it is the North of Ireland.

    Nothing illustrates this more than the death of Martin McGuinness, to some he was a patriot and a hero, to others he was a murderer and a terrorist, both points of view are valid depending on the experience of the individual who holds those views.

    As a society if we can move towards the idea that we do not need an agreed, shared history, that we do not need to force one group of people to accept the other’s version of events and the others vision of the future, but rather to live together and to realise that even within each community there are many different viewpoints, each shaped by peoples’ upbringing, by their personal experience and by their perception then we will be half way to where we need to be.

    At the same time we also need to agree that while individuals hold separate views that these views are not some kind of holy grail that cannot be debated and challenged in a respectful way. For the most part that is what has always happened on slugger and if that could be translated into the wider community we would be getting somewhere.

    When nationalists and republicans can accept that to unionists McGuinness was a murder and a terrorist and at the same time unionists can accept that to nationalists he was a patriot and a hero without the need to force one view or the other we will be where we need to be.