This week, the oddest of odd, was highlighted by a hostage-taker in Silver Spring. It was the same week that the media, both social and traditional, played fast and loose in the D.C. area.
In the case of the drama at the Discovery Building, our good pal Twitter took the lead, initially alerting newspapers and TV stations to the incident. From there, publications took that first swab of information and fleshed it out, (correctly) using Twitter as an event alert.
On the other side of the spectrum, Post columnist Mike Wise (incorrectly) posted fake news on Twitter as part of a social experiment, and Backyard Band’s Big G was (incorrectly) reported as fired from WKYS for his vocal support of Adrian Fenty.
Unlike in Silver Spring, where tweets were unleashed about a situation that was actually unfolding, new media devices were anything but helpful in the latter incidents. Wise was suspended for a month for his offense; someone with a lower profile may have been fired.
Wise posted a made-up tidbit about Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension to see if anyone would pick it up. A few sources did, but only attributed the information back to Wise.
What did the sportswriter’s social experiment prove? Don’t post fake news on a newspaper writer’s Twitter account or you will be suspended. Oh yeah, and Wise has an inflated ego. Did he really think ESPN was going to run with his unconfirmed tweets? At least most other news organizations knew better.
Meanwhile, Big G was not actually fired from WKYS. Not that were wasn’t drama (Glover said he was fired but ended up being suspended until the primary is over). But how did the story get so twisted? The originating news source — God knows who, exactly — jumped the gun, not taking pains to confirm Glover’s firing. And then, a snowball.
These days, once other organizations are reporting something, there is pressure for everyone to. Publications are all chasing the same trending topics at once, looking for a slice of page views that won’t be there tomorrow. So once one incomplete report about Big G was out there, a dozen were inevitable. Consider this: Should other people’s stories have to be vetted before bloggers link to them? That sounds great, but most bloggers work for free. That stuff isn’t fun, and I so no reason to believe bloggers will start doing this legwork. For now, the onus of the truth is on the papers.
Journalists love to believe they are the cog between readers and rumors, separating truth from fiction. But they will get the story wrong sometimes, and social media ain’t helping. The public wants accurate news, and NOW, dammit!
Journalists should pick the former over the latter, because sometimes it can’t be both.