Being first vs being right: How social media drives the pace of news

Last updated 09:00 04/07/2012

News has always been a fast-paced business - that's part of what makes it such an exciting industry to work in - but social media has taken it to the next level.

Twitter is like crack for news addicts. They can get their fix in real time. Our readers expect to see news unfolding on their devices as it happens.

This week there was a huge appetite on social media for the Scott Guy murder trial verdict and that intense interest can really ramp up the pressure in the newsroom

For us, this makes the race to be first tougher by the day. Aside from the ego boost of breaking news (few things bring a social media editor more joy than being the first to tweet out a fantastic story), the first tweets generally get the most shares and most clicks. I've actually tweeted from the @DomPost account while my desk was still shaking from a small earthquake in Wellington.

But it's easy to get caught up in the relentless push to be first and forget about the fundamentals of journalism. Social media has changed the way we find, produce and share news, but it shouldn't ever affect the quality of what we publish.

For, and a number of media organisations, the challenge is whether it's better to be first, or be 100% right. It's a no brainer that the latter is the right choice, but as the tweets roll in and competition heats up, it's not always a black and white decision.

CNN and Fox News Channel were both left red-faced this week when they mis-reported that US President Barack Obama's healthcare reforms had been struck down by the Supreme Court. CNN tweeted and emailed the news to the network's followers and Fox anchor Bret Baier also tweeted it. The mis-information was then compounded when The Huffington Post's politics Twitter feed tweeted the reports from CNN and Fox, and then later had to correct itself, saying "we jumped the gun".

At we've held back on joining the tweet frenzy on a number of occassions until we've had direct confirmation of an event from one of our reporters or sources. Other times we've opted to publish, but made it clear we are still seeking confirmation. Then we've updated once we have further information.

When the Labour party was set to announce its new leader in December last year, media organisations began tweeting it was David Shearer as soon as the closed caucus meeting was over. It seemed like the news was based solely on the fact that Shearer and Robertson emerged from the meeting first and with beaming smiles. Sure, this was a pretty big sign, and we knew that Shearer was the winner, but we wanted to hear it from our own reporters, who were confirming it. Even though we were five minutes behind we knew how bad it would look if we made an incorrect assumption, so we waited and went live with a story we felt confident in.

We do our readers a disservice if we jump the gun on a story before we've really nailed it. But we also do them a disservice by not bringing them timely information of major events happening in their region. How to find the right balance between meeting these two goals is something we are evaluating constantly as the platforms through which our readers consume media continue to evolve.

Tell us what you think about this issue: Do you question how accurate breaking news is when you read it on Twitter? Do you read the first tweet you see about something or search for your favourite news organisation? Do you expect media organisations to update you in real time when events are happening?

- The Dominion Post

Post a comment
Fraser   #1   12:32 pm Jul 04 2012

I think what goes on in Twitter, should stay in Twitter. An interesting tweet may spark a news story, but just as reporters don't upload scans of their notebooks, or raw interview tapes, I don't think directly including tweets in other media/sites is very helpful.

On Twitter itself, I do hold major media organisations to a higher level of account. To my mind, if I'm quoting a tweet by @SomeNumpty, then I'm just 'quoting Twitter' - due skepticism is required. But if I'm quoting a tweet by @DomPost, then I'm quoting the Dominion Post.

Keith Ng   #2   12:32 pm Jul 04 2012

You hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph. An earthquake, for example, is a "major event happening", and timeliness matters. A murder trial isn't, and timeliness doesn't matter. Being the first to report on a verdict makes no difference to the reader, and it's entirely a matter of vanity.

sh   #3   08:19 pm Jul 04 2012

Who cares about Twitter?

The verdict in a murder trial like the latest one is of immense public interest, as evidenced by the sheer volume of trial coverage.

Why People Read Newspapers   #4   02:47 am Jul 05 2012

Twitter & Facebook are just fads. People who turn to newspapers expect proper reporting of news.

Janine Bennetts   #5   08:54 am Jul 05 2012

Good point Keith Ng - sometimes there is a danger in the news industry of getting caught up in competing amongst ourselves and forgetting that the reader should always be at the centre of what we do and when we do it - on social networks and all forms of media.

@NapierinFrame   #6   01:00 pm Jul 05 2012

Historically, Fox has tried to discredit and criticise the US Democratic Party & it’s administration at any and every possible opportunity, so “accidently miss-reporting” news items like that is neither unusual nor overly surprising.

All it takes is a bit of common sense, really. You learn pretty quickly which sources are more trustworthy and accurate than others. The biggest number of Facebook and Twitter users I know / follow are quite self-policing on accuracy - you will get called out it if you are wrong.

Social media's "citizen journalists" may not always be completely accurate (despite having no formal journalism qualifications most of us still abide by the laws & sound morals), but it is remarkable in being simultaneously personal, direct, instantaneous and wide ranging - something that lots of other agencies are yet to properly grasp.

Keep in mind, too, that in this new digital "pick ‘n mix news" world you may no longer get, need or want to hear both sides of a story, which can not only blow views out of perspective, but the whole objective vs. subjective debate takes a hammering.

If all else fails follow this sound advice my father gave me: “Believe nothing of what you hear, only half of what you read and even take your fish & chips with a grain of salt!”

Post comment


Required. Will not be published.
Registration is not required to post a comment but if you , you will not have to enter your details each time you comment. Registered members also have access to extra features. Create an account now.

Maximum of 1750 characters (about 300 words)

I have read and accepted the terms and conditions
These comments are moderated. Your comment, if approved, may not appear immediately. Please direct any queries about comment moderation to the Opinion Editor at
Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content