Journalism Evolves with Live Blogging

blogThe Guardian article, “How live blogging has transformed journalism” explores the impact of live blogging on the journalism profession. One author who was cited even goes so far as to state that live blogging is the “death of journalism.”

In 1897, Mark Twain said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” In 2013, the reports of the demise of journalism are indeed greatly exaggerated. Technologies have changed the business model and the tools used to report the news, however news remains and will remain, an essential element of society and its culture.

The method of gathering, producing and disseminating news is currently undergoing a titanic shift, previously moving from news rooms to printing presses to delivery of hard copy newspapers to reader’s homes to the current transition to virtual reporting.

Today reporters are using ipads and skype to provide live action of unfolding events to servers where content is instantly delivered to the front door of online readers via Facebook, twitter, and live blogs.

As journalists learn how to optimize these tools to report the news, there will be mistakes. Just take a look at the recent Sandy Hook school shootings.  Those who erroneously reported major facts of that story included CBS, New York Times, Associated Press and National Public Radio.

At first, reporters identified the wrong person as the shooter, said the mother of the shooter was a teacher in the school, and reported the shooter’s father also had been killed in a nearby home.

Chris Septer in his Linked-In blog post, “Beyond Sandy Hook. Why it’s ok for the media to be wrong (for a while)” cites an old adage, “journalism is the first rough draft of history” he goes on to say, “now everyone sees news as it is being created when it is wrong. We participate in and literally live the news-gathering process in real time.”

Many of those who commented on his thoughtful post objected to his argument that it is ok when journalists – in an effort to be first to report – get it wrong; providing correct information in updates.  Those commenters correctly suggest a journalist should provide accurate information, not speculation.  The stream of consciousness, in-the-moment kind of reporting, some consider live blogging is fine if accurate. You cannot put the genie back in the bottle. A suspect, once identified as a suspect, will carry that label for the rest of his/her life. Not everyone will read the update or believe the update. It is a journalist’s responsibility to get it right the first time and every time, regardless of the pressure of deadlines or competition.

In a blog called Green Slade offered by the Guardian, the author offers the thought that “today’s information environment requires that restraint itself be shared, be publicized.” In other words, a writer/reporter should be transparent about their sources, the credibility of those sources and whether or not the information has been confirmed. In today’s social media world, it is called transparency.

Sandy Hook was not the first breaking news story in the social media age where reporters failed to get the facts. Perhaps readers remember the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gifford when such reputable national news organizations as CNN, CBS, and NPR reported Gifford was dead.

Breaking news is hard. Even the best reporters make mistakes.  Craig Silverman writing for Poynter correctly observes that “breaking news presents one of the most common and pervasive opportunities for error.”

The adoption of live blogging and micro-blogging by news media amplifies those errors and speeds them around the world, making the demand for accurate reporting even more necessary.  As journalists adapt to these technologies, they also will further define how to use those tools. With maturity, the rules of engagement for responsible reporting also will be re-defined.

Journalism in this new age of social media is evolving but alive and well.


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