*Normally I write about toddlers, pregnancy and poop and take lots of picture of my food. But I lived another life once, one where I sat at a table and discussed major world news events. One where I carried a voice recorder and a notepad, where I got cauliflower ear from having a phone pressed up to my head for hours. One where someone actually paid me to observe and write. Today, I realized how much I missed that world and wondered if I was still responsible enough to be a part of it.
I love information. There’s way too much of it crammed into my brain, which serves as an organic file cabinet that probably could star in its own episode of Hoarders.
But it’s not just the knowing of things with which I’m obsessed, it’s the origins, communication and effects of that information that completely enthrall me.
I’ve spent time in several newsrooms and watched how gatekeepers uncover and disseminate information. I’ve been a gatekeeper myself. And perhaps the biggest lesson I learned from those experiences was that the sheer immensity of the responsibility that comes with knowing and sharing information can be overwhelming.
Before the advent of social media, that responsibility was easier to bear because timeliness was manageable. Information did not necessarily have to be instantly available because people understood what it took to prepare, fact check and present it.
But now in the age of Twitter where information is immediately accessible, easily searchable and instantly disseminated and corroborated, timeliness is all but impossible to manage.
This morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend at home, drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in front of his coaches in the parking lot.
A HUGE story in any market, not just sports.
I found out about it when one of my friends tweeted a link to another tweet from someone with firsthand knowledge of the situation. It was just after eight in the morning.
It took another 15 minutes for me to find a second reputable confirmation of this event using Twitter. Another ten before a local news outlet posted a story.
At least a full hour before the news made it to the ESPN ticker on television.
And about sixty seconds before people started bitching at ESPN about not having the player’s name available when it had been known on Twitter for at least 45 minutes, and for taking so long to even break the story in the first place.
What most of these people don’t understand is that the levels of professional responsibility differ greatly from your average newshound on Twitter to your national news desk.
On Twitter, speculation is accepted, if not expected. Twitter is information and thoughts with no filter, with virtually no responsibility. This is what makes Twitter both great and terrible.
Great because its unfettered nature allows for unbiased dissemination. Great because it makes everyone a gatekeeper.
Terrible because there’s no collective agreement to hold anyone responsible for the effects of releasing sensitive information too soon. Terrible because fact checking isn’t really a priority for this army of “First”ers.
On ESPN, however, producers have to be absolutely sure of facts before they report them in a situation like this. They are held accountable for releasing a victim’s name before the family is notified. They hold themselves and are held to a higher standard of journalistic integrity.
This means that national sports news networks such as ESPN as well as broader networks like CNN no longer have the market cornered as breaking news sources. Instead, they’ve adapted to provide more in-depth coverage. (Some say this has forced them to become nothing more than a sideshow of talking heads.)
So, as the heir to the kingdom of breaking news, does Twitter need to police itself more carefully regarding sensitive information? Or is this just the future of news?
And what about sites like Wikipedia? Jovan Belcher’s death was updated almost immediately on that site. As several of my friends asked, “Who appointed themselves Wikipedia death updater? What kind of person thinks to immediately do that?”
I’ve done some soul searching this morning in regard to these questions. I know that I love seeing news break. I’m amazed at watching the rate of dissemination that’s possible these days. I like to be the first to know. And yes, I like to be the one who breaks the story first.
But what is my responsibility as a blogger and social media participant? Am I required to wait for the authorities to confirm details on a separate news source before I can share information? Or is there a point where I independently evaluate the credibility of my own sources and post as I see fit?
If I get it wrong, a 140-character retraction is probably enough to satisfy my followers. No one is going to be calling for my job or writing angry letters to my superiors. As fast as my online world changes, people probably won’t even remember my mistake an hour later.
But I’ll know, and since one day I do want to return to the newsroom – or at the very least be a part of the journalism world in a freelance position – it would behoove me to not form any bad habits.
How do you think Twitter can hold itself accountable for accuracy in its spread of information? Is that even possible? Or does the commerce of Followers, Retweets and Favorites keep people loosely in line?