Things change, and we’re in the middle of it
This editorial appeared in the St. John’s Telegram:
The speed of news hasn’t changed — any reporter can tell you that. When you are covering a live event, especially a fire or a crime, things can be pretty dynamic, and the story can change in a hurry. Even the things you’re sure you have properly sourced can melt away when the facts you are given are just plain wrong. But the speed with which that news can be delivered? That certainly has changed. Now, reporters can tweet the second they learn things — others can, too, tweeting everything from facts to suppositions to rumours and beyond. The people who see those Twitter and other social media postings can make quick decisions about what they are reading — but one thing that everyone should be remembering is that, if the media is the first draft of history, news-by-tweet is not even a draft.
It’s hardly even the first attempt at legible notes. And, as we receive it, we have to be thinking about that.
On Monday morning, following a horrific attack on the mosque in Quebec City, for example, police said quite clearly that “attackers” wanted to sow fear, and said they had two people in custody. In fact, throughout the first news conference by police, the attackers were always identified in plural.
The names of those two detainees leaked out, and they were quickly posted online by a variety of media sites and throughout Twitter. But there was a problem with that. Later, the police clarified that they had only one suspect in custody — the other man in custody was a witness, and was released Monday afternoon.
Things change — not only that, but the first priority for police is properly addressing crime and catching and charging criminals, not necessarily informing the media of what’s changed, so replacing information that has been overtaken by new facts can take time.
Anyone who has worked in reporting for a decade or more knows that, before reporting was an instantaneous process, there could be many changes to a first draft before a story actually made it to press or the air.
For readers, it means keeping an open mind. Because things change, and now, you’re right in the middle of it.