It’s an interesting time to be in the journalism business. Information and rumors spread so quickly that it can be difficult to determine which is which. PhotoShop has allowed those deft in the program to create their own news events if they so please (see Storyful on why seeing is not always believing). So how do news organizations make sure what they’re reporting is accurate?
Well, sometimes they don’t. Remember the media race for information on the Boston Marathon bombing? Even institutions like the Associated Press, Time and the Wall Street Journal fell victim to reporting unverified information in the rush to be the first to provide what readers were looking for. (Mother Jones lists seven false things you heard about the bombing.) At the time, people were gobbling up every little detail and demanding more: Where are the bombers? What did they use? Why did they do it?
As it came out that the media had bungled the reporting of this high interest story, people were unforgiving. Readers don’t cut news organizations any slack for having to navigate this world full of false information disguised as genuine news tips. Readers expect news organizations to check their facts — as they should. But here’s the disconnect: checking takes time, and readers still expect the information just as quickly. It’s a real dilemma for news organizations: Do you get it first, or do you get it right? Obviously, both is ideal, but both is not always possible. I think the only ethical thing to do is to check and check quickly. You’re not always going to be first, but always being right is better.
So what happens when a news organization does get it wrong? I’ve heard arguments on both sides of deleting tweets and posts. Here’s what I think: In almost every situation, incorrect information can be corrected without deleting anything. Rather, news organizations should reply to their own tweet with the correct information in order to connect the two. On Facebook, edit the post to say the previous information was incorrect and include the right information. Correcting rather than deleting is part of being transparent and owning up to mistakes. I, for one, respect the brands that do this much more than those who sweep mistakes under the rug.