Things change, and we’re in the mid­dle of it

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

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.

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