Reporting live in a world with Twitter

As you are undoubtedly aware, a gunman held eight people hostage at the WCB in downtown Edmonton last week. I happened to be on Breakfast Television that morning, so I was on the Citytv set as news was trickling in. I had the opportunity to tweet about the news live on the air:

Unconfirmed via @CitytvEdmonton: armed man holed up in the WCB building downtown. #yeg

It all happened very quickly and if the news wasn’t so terrible, I’d have said it was exciting. Certainly it was a good illustration of one aspect of the social media tools I was scheduled to talk about that morning.

A couple of hours later, I setup a live page on ShareEdmonton to cover the story (the feature is a work-in-progress, so it should be time-boxed but isn’t currently). That enabled anyone to quickly look at the stream of updates coming from Edmontonians related to the hostage situation. I used it throughout the day, and the feedback I received was mostly positive. I think what was most powerful about it was that you simultaneously got updates from the local media (in particular, @lyndasteele) and regular citizens, some discussing the event, others simply trying to find out what was going on. I’m sure many more people were just monitoring the #yeg hashtag in Twitter Search, TweetDeck, or some other app.

I think most found Twitter to be a useful resource that day, but not everyone was happy. Can you guess who complained about the Twitter coverage? Some members of the local media, of course. I heard from a number of journalists throughout the day that they were concerned about posting news on Twitter. Esther Enkin from CBC even wrote about it:

The task is complicated further by the sheer volume of communication. Facebook and Twitter were working overtime. At one point, there was a rumour that someone holed up in the building was updating the situation on Facebook.

The level of speculation and misinformation on Twitter was an object lesson on the need to verify and sift the facts.

Late in the day, someone from CBC tweeted that some hostages had contacted us. We weren’t reporting the fact that we had become involved for a bunch of reasons.

But here is a really important principle. We should not tweet what we wouldn’t put on the air.

I’m not going to deny that verifying the facts is important, but I will disagree that the level of “speculation and misinformation” on Twitter was higher than normal. I think it was the opposite actually – I think Twitter enabled citizens to get the facts faster. Faster than walking around talking to neighbours or coworkers, which is where speculation truly thrives, and certainly faster than waiting for the six o’clock news.

Esther takes care in her article to deny that they were withholding information for competitive reasons:

One reason we didn’t let on is because we didn’t want every other news organization jumping in. Not for competitive reasons, but because the chaos could be dangerous.

Really? Chaos would ensue from other media organizations knowing that CBC had talked to the hostage taker? I’m not so sure.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the media over the last year it’s that they are incredibly competitive. That was the primary concern when Twitter hit the scene in Edmonton back in Februrary – “we can’t tweet that or our competitors will find out.” Maybe Esther is telling the truth, but I don’t believe it.

Her other reason for withholding the information was based on CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices, last amended in 2004 (before Twitter, you’ll note).

Of course, the primary danger of live reporting and detailed descriptions of what is going on outside in a situation like this is that the hostage taker can be listening, watching and logging on.

That makes sense at first, but think about it a little more. That statement implicitly suggests that reporters can collectively control the information the hostage taker is receiving. Really?

Trying to control the information is impossible. You have to assume the hostage taker is going to be looking for information. These days, that probably means he or she is carrying a device with Internet capabilities. You also have to assume that regular people are going to be posting information, people who never went to journalism school and who don’t work for a media organization. Some of those people are going to be merely observers, looking at the situation from the outside. Others will be part of the event.

All the signs point to more information, from more people, faster than ever before. Most of us walk around with phones or other Internet connected devices, and in a couple years you probably won’t be able to buy a device without Internet connectivity. I think that’s the reality, and that’s the world the media need to visualize themselves in.

Stop complaining about the misinformation on social networks, and start preempting it. Stop trying to control the flow of information, and start figuring out how to effectively contribute the facts.

  • flickerfumes

    in other words, don’t whine that you don’t like the change.. the only constant is that things are changing all the time. notice to local traditional media… listen, adapt or die off like the dinosaurs.

  • Paul Ney

    The irony of mainstream media calling out the accuracy of social media in its reporting does not escape me…

  • EG

    I think that people on Twitter should be more critical of the information that’s ‘tweeted’ the next time something happens like this anywhere. We accuse the traditional media of getting the story wrong on so many occasions, but how come we never give the same kind of flack to individuals/groups who give out information on Twitter/Facebook/blogs that could possibly hurt the general public or, in this case, could endager the lives of those involved in the hostage situation?

    If Twitter and citizen journalism is going to be the next thing in news, the public has to live up to the ‘journalism’ part of that title and at least verify the facts before tweeting… Especially in cases like this where critical information needs to be RT’d, not social commentary of personal anecdotes.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    EG – Good points, definitely. I think the primary tweets being retweeted were from local media figures, such as Lynda Steele. You have to look at posts on Twitter as you should anything else though – with a critical eye.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    If you have a look at CBC’s journalistic standards, they also indicate that they won’t endanger the lives of anyone involved nor will they be manipulated by the hostage takers.

    http://cbc.radio-canada.ca/accountability/journalistic/violence.shtml#92

    “9.2 TERRORISM AND HOSTAGE TAKING
    CBC journalists must ensure that any action they take will not further endanger the lives of the hostages or interfere with efforts of authorities to secure the hostages’ release. They must guard against being used or manipulated by the terrorists/hostage takers.”

    So, it made sense for CBC not to release information indicating that they had talked to the hostage or hostage taker. You’re dealing with someone unbalanced enough to take several hostages in the first place, so you don’t want to do anything that will potentially anger the hostage taker and potentially endanger the hostages.

    Yes, the media is competitive, but if they were just looking for ratings, why didn’t they go live on air with the hostage taker? That’s something you’d probably see on CNN.

    There is certainly a case to be made for withholding information in certain circumstances and I agree with CBC’s decision to do it. I believe they were discussing the situation on The Current the next day and did play some audio from the hostage taker then, well after the incident.

    There certainly was misinformation on Twitter about what was happening. I saw a number of tweets with a link to a blog and speculation that the blogger could be the hostage taker. Apparently it wasn’t. It was on “good authority” though.

    I don’t know if there have been any cases yet, but one day someone on Twitter will be sued for libel. Repeating that libel can get others sued too.

  • Jason W

    Part of CBC’s defense is valid, but it wasn’t mentioned here:

    CBC, and possibly media outlets in general, have a policy to not interface with hostage takers during an event. The rationale here is that any medium lending an ear to such an individual, would simply vindicate their “cause” and only encourage others to engage in violent acts in order to be heard.

    The sad truth is… I believe Clayton garnered more sympathy for his cause by taking hostages than he would have by going through means the rest of us would have used: Blogging/Campaigning/Protected.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Alain – I’m not disputing that this is a tricky situation. There’s certainly a lot to balance. What I’m suggesting is that doing things the way we always have probably isn’t good enough.

    As for the libel – maybe that’ll happen, and maybe we need it to happen. I never denied the fact that there was misinformation on Twitter about the event – there always is.

    But think about it – what’s worse? Someone who posts incorrect information that is quickly corrected, or someone who blindly believes everything they read?

    I think the latter is far more dangerous, yet the focus is always on the individual or organization posting the information.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Jason – I think that’s why you never see the media report on suicides. Same rationale.

  • Robert Burwood

    The other aspect of mass social media participation is that it is self governing. We saw this when other actors had ‘died’ on the same day as Farrah and MJ. The Twitter mass quickly corrected false reports.

    This is what I like to call the Darwinism effect, the extreme opinions are out voted by the rational consensus. Give society a chance, the majority want to make the world a better place. :)

  • http://blog.bradgrier.com Brad Grier

    I’m surprised it’s not been said yet, or I missed it, that Social Media (SM) isn’t the best for reporting accurate news quickly either…remember Balloon Boy? Everyone got it wrong, MSM and SM.

    I recall a lesson taught in J-school and basically it said that the further (in time) you get away from an event, the more accurate the reporting about that event would be.

    Twitter doesn’t allow you the luxury of accuracy. Most SM doesn’t.

    And frankly, Twitter and SM are *not* the focus of Mainstream Media (MSM), yet. TV stations are in business to get eyeballs on TV, not to drive people to Twitter for updates. SM is not a core competency, yet.

    The media will catch up. Unfortunately they’re bound by both internal and external restrictions and codes of conduct that Citizen Journalist practicing social media don’t have to worry about, generally. Canadian law still applies to CJ, as you’ve said, re: slander / libel, etc.

    But Corp. policy, regulators policy and even community standards all weigh in to the decision of any news org. to release information.

    It’s easy to look back and review the events after the fact. It’s another to be in the newsroom during such an event, presented with this situation, and know that the codes and policies that you’re following have been developed over a long period of time, have considered many more implications than is possible for an assignment editor to do in the heat of the moment, and are generally supported and recognized by public agencies, your competitors, and your community watchdog organizations.

    It’ll take time, but MSM will find a place in this new social media world — in fact, they already are.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Brad, thanks for your thoughts, very interesting. You’re right, in the heat of the moment you just have to do the best with what you’ve got. I completely agree. But now that we can safely look back with 20-20 hindsight, I think there’s an opportunity for media to help define news-via-social-media. I don’t think they should have to “catch up”. That’s what I’m getting at. It won’t happen overnight obviously, but it’s not something the media can just wait for either.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Sorry Mack, but the media will do things differently than people do with social media. That’s just the way it is. There are different factors to consider for them.

    In a story like this, I’d much rather that the media things right than got them out quickly. Speaking hypothetically, how’d you like to be one of the family members of a hostage if the media reported hostage X had been killed and they’d reported it without confirming or next of kin being notified?

    What if the same thing had been done on Twitter, but later corrected? I’d be furious either way.

    If the situation is contained, which it was, why is there a need to have minute by minute updates, aside from concern for the hostages? People don’t need that information other than concern for those involved. In reality it amounts to voyeurism.

    I don’t know, did the local TV stations drop their regular programming and have news anchors giving us a play by play the whole day? Not that I’m aware of and thank god for that. It’s that kind of thing that dumbs down the media.

    It’s like live broadcasting car chases, anything to do with OJ Simpson or when Michael Jackson died. You don’t need minute by minute updates!

    On the libel issue, it will eventually happen. Nobody needs it to happen because when it happens it means that someone is maligning someone’s reputation, maliciously or otherwise.

    In fact, this is one of the aspects of citizen journalism that is a serious risk for those involved. If you libel someone on Twitter or your blog, you’re on your own. Maybe you didn’t, but someone decided to take advantage of ‘libel chill’ and sue you because they’ve got deeper pockets and don’t like what you said.

    This is part of why the media does take the time to get the story right. This is why the media will continue to be the main source of news. They do have the resources and filters to make sure the story is as accurate as possible before it goes out. And if they do get sued, it’s not going to shut down the entire organization.

    Social media is fine for breaking news and eyewitness reporting. The media can’t be everywhere! But, news organizations still have the advantage when it comes to aggregating news, investigating stories and generally keeping on top of issues. Is it perfect? No.

    Social media does have its limitations. It’s a simple fact of life, just like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines have limitations too. They also have their strengths too and we shouldn’t overlook them.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Alain, I know you and I love to disagree, so I don’t think we’re going to come to any conclusion in this little thread. Obviously social media has limitations. All I’m saying is that the mainstream media need to start taking it seriously and figuring out how and where it fits in with the rest of the tools at their disposal. And if they’re not going to tweet the news as they get it, they shouldn’t complain when others do.

    Another thought – just because you tweet it doesn’t mean others will see it. If you really wanted to, you could only look at updates from the MSM, in theory ensuring that you only received accurate updates. Of course, you’re not really taking advantage of social media then.

    I disagree that news organizations “have the advantage when it comes to aggregating news, investigating stories and generally keeping on top of issues”. Actually, I’m a little insulted by that statement.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Mack, we’ll agree and disagree on this issue anyway. :)

    Were the media complaining that people were tweeting the news ahead of them? I don’t know. I don’t know why they would.

    I agree with Esther’s comment that, at least from a media perspective, they need to sift and verify the facts.

    I think sifting is a key word to consider here, because in viewing social media, you really would have to sift the tweets and there’s no real way to verify what’s true and what’s not. Immediacy has its downsides. Are you better informed by following the play by play or consuming the “post-game analysis?”

    I don’t know why you’d be insulted by me saying that news organizations do have the advantages I stated. It’s a simple matter of fact. In terms of reporting the news, yes, they absolutely do have the advantage.

    How can you not have the advantage when you’ve got thousands of people employed full-time where their job is to report the news? Is it a perfect model? No. Is their method of delivery perfect? No.

    The blogosphere is certainly ahead of media when it comes to slicing, dicing, analyzing, opining and commenting on world events. I think it’s better that it happen there anyway, to an extent (I prefer informed opinion).

    Isolated pockets of bloggers do not a media replacement make. If you could make a living just blogging about local events, great, but you’d be the exception. I’m sure there are many out there who’d like to do it.

    I’m not convinced that legions of bloggers would make a satisfactory replacement for the media anyway, or even a reasonable facsimile, and not just for some of the reasons I’ve gone over.

  • flickerfumes

    interesting analysis, the debate in the comments, are just as interesting as the article. MSM VS SM, isn’t really a versus situation, currently they seem to compliment each other, and MSM, with thier media “professionals” will probably allways be with us. Just what form of delivery MSM will use is the interesting point. we are transitioning from a passive delivery system, where the masses passively receive to one where the people can push back, pass on, and comment live. so news becomes more of a dialogue.

    Interesting comment about libel chill, it is likely only a matter of time, before twitterlitigation occurs. As a veteran of the wild west days of internet chat/news group flame wars, it is easy in the heat of an issue burning a hole in your frontal lobes to type/say things that from an outside point of view would be civilly or criminally actionable. My point of view on that is much like the issue of sex and or violence on tv.. don’t engage/turn the channel/block the jerk.. but the lawyers and others may not see it that way.

    Having said that, there does seem to be a form of darwinism that occurs with social media information, if one person starts passing on information, if its ill founded or false the interested group tends to correct the false info.

    As to media and the balloon boy scam… all kinds of media were manipulated by a scammer, and social media merely passed on what was coming over the msm…. many people were making skeptical comments about the incident as it occured as well.. thats the beauty of social media, see my comments about dialogue.

    either way alan, and maq….. its informed, rational discourse like this that is fulfilling the promise of blogging/social media in general. keep up the good work both of you..

  • Hilary

    I love that Twitter is challenging standard media to change. But that said, the winning points go towards the media outlets, who for the most part acted with integrity and respect for the ongoing situation.

    As someone who knew exactly what was happening and when, I found there was most definitely a high level of misinformation on Twitter. And being legally bound not to correct information was very frustrating for me. However, when did it become our right to know the exact play-by-play of a hostage situation or any major police investigation. Simply to satisfy our own curiousities? Where do we draw the line on how much information is released to the general public? The only people who had a right to know information were the family members of the hostages, which is why the hotline was established.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Alain – “news organizations still have the advantage when it comes to aggregating news, investigating stories and generally keeping on top of issues.” No, I think Google News has the advantage when it comes to aggregating news, or even some of the startup local aggregators. Investigating stories? Depends entirely on what the story is. There will almost always be someone in a given topic area that can do a better job than the mainstream media, because that’s what they aim to be, mainstream. Generally keeping up on issues? I think I and others do a fine job of that on our own, thank you very much.

    There are two advantages that the media currently enjoy: audience size, and access to information.

    But rest assured, both of those advantages are slowly but surely slipping away from them.

    Hilary – Ugh, if I really have to I’ll pull all the data for that morning and do the analysis. It will show that the level of misinformation was not incredibly high, and that incorrect information was quickly corrected. I looked at Twitter before I left for Calgary that day, once or twice on my BlackBerry on the way to Calgary, and then once I arrived at Calgary. At no point did I see a bunch of updates and say, hmm, what I read earlier was totally wrong. Maybe we’re not look at the same tweets?

    Why can’t citizens be concerned for other citizens? Why don’t citizens have a right to know what’s going on their community? How do citizens know how to react without more information?

    I’m not saying we need a play-by-play. I’m suggesting that people will post things, correct or incorrect, and there’s an opportunity for the media to ensure that what is posted is correct and/or corrected. I’m suggesting that Twitter and other tools need to be considered as part of the media’s strategy.

  • Robert Burwood

    Do I read the newspaper? No.
    Do I watch TV? Other than to watch the Oilers lose. No.
    Do I listen to news radio, CKUA. There is no other.
    It’s not a matter of if or when, it is!

  • Hilary

    What is more important…having the wrong information right away, or waiting for the correct information? You consult your data, and I’ll consult the memory of my co-workers’ sitting 5 feet behind me…as I stated, I would have loved to have corrected the information but I couldn’t. Instead, I kept waiting for the media to break with the news. I most definitely agree with you on the point that Twitter should be used as part of the media’s strategy.

    I’m sure there was a level of concern, but I guess I’m just too cynical to believe that most people were solely concerned just for the sake of their fellow citizens. They wanted to know the gritty details for the same reasons people read celebrity news. We enjoy watching the drama. Whether we’ll admit it or not.

    We don’t we have a right to know what’s going on in a hostage situation because it’s an ongoing criminal investigation. The only information we NEEDED to know that day was that there was a hostage situation at the WCB, police were taking care of it, to avoid the area, and buses/traffic is being detoured. Which I believe is what the majority of the news outlets were reporting.

    The rest of the information – for example, the hostage-taker’s demands, or the gender breakdown of the hostages – is completely superfluous. Tell me how any of that information makes a difference on your level of concern, whether you get it right away or wait until the gunman has been apprehended and everyone is safe.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    I hear you Hilary. There’s absolutely an element of people just enjoying the drama, unfortunately.

  • http://blog.bradgrier.com Brad Grier

    I find myself agreeing with Alain and Hilary.

    Two thoughts:

    1) Broadcast.
    Mack, you’d know this better than I, but the numbers, the ‘penetration’ of social media in our local community is significantly lower than the penetration of any mainstream media, right? The Broadcast model is what we have right now, and that reaches the most ears and eyeballs. Which is why MSM core business is focused on reaching those ears and eyeballs.

    Sure, the numbers are dropping, but what I’ve read that’s attributed to marketplace dilution (more sources for info in MSM, people looking at CBC online rather than watching the 6pm news, for example) than new converts to SM to being their *prime* source of news.

    2). Trust
    The media *are* integrating these tools into their work. But they are still beholding to the same media principles and journalistic practices that have built them the credibility as a trusted source for news — and with that credibility and trust comes an audience.

    It’s a long process to build that level of trust with a community, and in a newsroom it can take generations of journalist, each building on the credibility of their predecessors.

    Individuals using social media, outside of those newsrooms, just won’t have access to that level of audience until a similar level of trust is achieved amongst the general public.

    Back to my original thoughts…SM integration into the newsroom will happen. It may not be as open and instant as everyone would like, but it’ll happen.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Brad – I know it’ll happen. Open data will happen too. But I’m not content with that. I want to see it happen, from start to finish, helping where I can. “Just sit back, it’ll come” is probably the worst thing you can say to me :)

    I think what’s interesting about the broadcast point isn’t that MSM reaches more people than SM. That, at the moment, is a fact. What’s interesting is that the MSM are tuned into SM, and increasingly it informs their research/reporting. I saw this with #ecca, with the Gariepy Block story, and many other instances. So you might argue that SM does reach a pretty broad audience, through the MSM.

    “Trust is the new black.”
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-newmark/a-nerds-take-on-the-futur_b_325544.html

    It’s a key point, but I don’t for a second believe that SM will always be less trustworthy than MSM.

  • http://blog.bradgrier.com Brad Grier

    Heh, I hope I didn’t imply that you need to sit back and not be a part of it. My point is that, even when we’re involved, things don’t always move as fast as we’d like.

    Agreed where SM can feed into MSM. But MSM wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) report on SM until it’s passed their regular fact checking / approval process. SM would be considered a secondary source, to MSM.

    re: Trust, we’re back to the time thing — I too don’t believe that SM will *always* play 2nd fiddle to MSM.

    But SM is just a media channel, it depends on the trustworthiness of the person or org. using SM, as it does with the org. using MSM.

    Unfortunately, most SM users haven’t got the trust level of local newscasters. Yet.

    On a similar note, have you heard of Whuffie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whuffie )? I like to think we’re heading in that direction.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Hmm I hadn’t heard of that, no…thanks for the link!

    You make another important distinction – SM is just a channel. I get that, but as the saying goes, the medium is the message. There are lots of people who trust whatever is written in the newspaper solely because it is a newspaper. Doesn’t matter who wrote it. I wonder if SM will ever get to that level of blind trust?

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Mack, when I refer to news organizations having the advantage in aggregating the news, I mean it in the sense that they have a team out in the field reporting the news. Google doesn’t report, it only aggregates the news via links. News organizations are creating the stories that Google is linking to.

    And this is the advantage media organizations have over disparate bloggers. Think about it: do you really think that someone’s going to spend a lot of time searching for local stories from bloggers? No, they’re going to go to a media outlet website or pick up their paper, watch or listen to their broadcast, etc. There are some who do, but very few I’m sure. It’s inconvenient and time consuming in a world where people want everything now.

    Perhaps there could be local aggregators for blogs, but you run into a trust and bias issue too.

    As a reporter I sought to write balanced stories in the beats I covered. I consulted experts in the field or people who were related to the story. The problem with experts writing the stories is if they’re writing from their perspective and aren’t providing balance in the story. I’d rather hear from a few experts and newsmakers in a story rather than a single biased point of view. As a reader, I can make my own decisions on what’s happening in the story. The job of the media is to present a balanced story so one can do that.

    What I’m referring to in “keeping on top of issues” is that there are typically dedicated reporters covering areas of public interest, such as politics, crime, health, etc. It doesn’t take long as a reporter to have a good understanding of the issue and to recognize stories that are important to report on.

    Did I say bloggers can’t? No. But, let’s be honest. There’s not a whole lot of original reporting going on by bloggers, not compared to the amount of original stories generated by the “mainstream media.” It’s not a slight on bloggers. Like I’ve said before, they usually have other jobs and don’t have the time to sit in hours long committee meetings, etc, to be able to report on what’s happening.

    So, a dedicated workforce is a media advantage.

    And you’re right, media do enjoy an advantage in terms of audience size and access to information. That will continue.

  • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

    Alain, I guess we’ll agree to disagree. I think you need to drop the “media are holier than thou” stance, because it’s not always true. I also think you need to stop looking at how the world works at this instant…what we’re talking about is how it’ll work six months, six years, etc. down the line. ONE expert writing a story isn’t balanced, but when you have many, you can achieve that sort of balance. I’d rather hear two sides argue it out, than one reporter pretend to write a balanced story. Reporters are only human, they have biases and make mistakes too.

    There are two ways to look at your last statement. The first: I disagree that the media will always enjoy an advantage when it comes to audience size and access to information. The second: maybe “media” always will have those advantages, but the definition of “media” is changing, so it’s not what you think of today.

    Either way, I disagree with you :)

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Brad, I agree with you on the trust issue. The mainstream media is generally trusted more than social media.

    When it comes to Twitter, trust is a serious issue and will continue until Twitter can somehow verify accounts. Even then, those accounts can be hacked, so how do you know who is sending out a message on Twitter?

    Mack, I know you want to see social media integrated into the media, but it’s really not your decision! Those organizations have to make the decisions for themselves, whether you want to help or not! It’s only a small part of their audience clamouring for them to be on social media and they’re moving into it more and more. Everyone uses social media a little differently and don’t expect the media to use it exactly the way you’d like.

    Face it. You will never, ever see everything that happens in a newsroom.

    You’re not likely to see what happens in editorial meetings. You’re not likely to see pre-publish versions of stories. Why? Libel is one of the main concerns but also competition. Media organizations still are businesses and they fight for exclusives and “scoops.” No sense giving that information away to your competition or divulging information to those you may be investigating.

    While media are paying more attention to social media, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing, do you think that media organizations are completely disconnected from the general public? Nothing could be further from the truth!

    In my experience, the public is integral to what happens in a newsroom, particularly as stories are more localized. I have worked on many stories that would have been letters to the editor, but the editor says, “I want you to interview them.” Newsrooms rely on the public calling in with tips about what’s happening. It’s not unlike the police needing the public’s help with investigations.

    The perception that the media is detached from the public is just plain wrong. Perhaps in some cases, but that hasn’t been the case in my experience.

    Social media is an important investigative tool for the media but they also need to know who they’re talking to. Again, the issue of trust.

    There may be some people out there who blindly trust what goes into newspapers, on TV and radio, but there are also many of us who ask questions, but also get their news from multiple sources.

    As for what’s in the newspaper, just by being as public as it is and knowing the organizational structure, that’s part of how they generate trust. There is accountability there. If the audience doesn’t trust them, the audience looks elsewhere. As Brad pointed out though, decreasing audience numbers aren’t just about trust, but about new information channels too.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Mack, I don’t think the “media are holier than thou” but I think there are advantages to having dedicated media organizations.

    I know the media has problems. I absolutely know that. There’s a lot to be desired in the current media landscape, such as concentrated media ownership. A diversity of voices is a good thing. I’ve never said otherwise. Canada’s media landscape does need that diversity of voices and I’m hoping that we’ll see Canwest broken up and sold to smaller media organizations rather than just having it sold to an even bigger media conglomerate.

    There are also media organizations out there that have a certain editorial slant, which isn’t good either. I don’t want to read a newspaper with a Liberal or Conservative bias. I would just like stories that are as objective as possible. I like opposing viewpoints. I don’t want to live my life in an echochamber where I only get views that serve reinforce my narrow point of view.

    I’m not happy with the current state of the media in many ways, which is why I’ve talked a lot about new forms of media organizations. I do have that blog post about the co-op model I’ve talked about nearly done. Obviously I need to finish it! :)

  • Evan

    I’m curious what will happen when someone average citizen decides to take their pro-sumer camera and internet connection and start doing live reports from events like this.

    In the end, The MSM has two issues that they must deal with or die.

    Speed- While accuracy is an issue, most of the MSM have already gone over to reporting before they know all the facts, its become the norm. See: MJ, Balloon Boy, etc. the MSM was just as accurate as SM.

    Cost- Citizens can do the same quality, and do it cheaper, without having to worry about purchasing air time, ad revenue, etc. Arguably, this empowers the SM citizenry to do a better job because they aren’t in it to make money, but because they have a genuine passion, and because they can.

    There is a reason newspaper sales went down an average of 10% in the last 6 months (some had an over 25% drop). There is a direct correlation with subsciber drops and SM presence, those that have an online subscription system, did better, or even grew. Those that didn’t, either closed down completely or had massive losses.

    Hopefully TV MSM will learn from this trend before the regular population finds out about the alternatives.

  • http://alainsaffel.com Alain Saffel

    Evan, accuracy in reporting will always be an issue. I don’t agree that all media is going this way either.

    Where I think that there is a real advantage for media organizations is with those who want to do more reflective, in-depth reporting on issues. Yes, anyone with a video camera can go out and shoot video. That’s not going to help people understand what’s really going on.

    The tougher investigative work that helps us understand what’s really going on takes time and money. Unfortunately because of the economy, that kind of reporting is being cut back too.

    That’s the kind of reporting you’re unlikely to see from citizen journalists in any kind of broad way. They don’t have the time or money to do it.

    While journalists may be paid to do their job, you can’t say they’re biased because of it. People who aren’t making money on issues can still have axes to grind and pet projects to nurture. I think that all types of journalists are no less passionate about the issues they report on.

    I know the US has had a serious problem with media closing their doors. I wouldn’t attribute it all to social media though. While media audiences are going online more and more, that happened when the economy completely tanked in the US. For most businesses, marketing is the first thing to be cut, which is why the crisis hit media organization so hard.

    From what I understand in Edmonton, there hasn’t been the drop in circulation with local papers like there has been in other areas. Why would that be? We’ve got an extremely active social media community (what, maybe 5,000 on Twitter?) yet our media organizations seem to be pretty healthy.

    While Canwest is on the verge of collapse, the information I’ve heard is that Canwest’s Alberta properties are the healthiest in the company.

  • http://buymycar.tumblr.com/ Nko

    I tried to tweet but it just doesn’t seem worth it – so exhausting to always thinking about your next update…

  • Christopher Spencer

    The problem of speed versus accuracy predates social media. When Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald live on television, journalism lost the ability to filter. Gatekeepers have declined in influence ever since. Twitter is part of broad change that’s been happening for decades.

    A broader problem is that technology, especially in communications, has advanced faster than our wisdom of how to use it. We have a literacy gap. That was one of the key topics at the recent Inspiring Education conference. Brighter people than me have ideas on how to catch up, but from my narrow perspective I don’t think discarding tools because of human imperfection is a desirable or realistic option. If media, as McLuhan claimed, are “extensions of man,” we are going to see our failures within them: same for print, audio, video and electronic, mainstream and social.

  • Pingback: Top 10 Edmonton Posts for 2009 at MasterMaq's Blog()