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

20:20, Aug 02 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