“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’.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty