Blaming Twitter for real-time reporting errors ‘too simplistic’: Kathy English

Ahead of next Thursday’s CJF J-Talk on journalism ethics in a social media age, Toronto StarAhead of next Thursday’s CJF J-Talk on journalism ethics in a social media age, Toronto Star public editor Kathy English tackles the notion that Twitter is to blame for errors made in real-time reporting. Laying such fault on a medium is “too simplistic,” she writes.

As in all journalism, verification is essential when reporting news as it happens, English writes, quoting Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s Elements of Journalism in saying this means “getting what happened down right.” She continues:

But, as the J-Talks panellists tell me, we need to do that within the reality that getting what happened down right when news breaks has always been somewhat messy.

Even when journalists reported for a daily news cycle, we understood the truth of the now clichéd statement that “news is the best available version of the truth.” In the chaos of reporting breaking news on deadline, that meant we sometimes didn’t have everything right when it came time to publish. We updated in next-day stories and published corrections.

Now that the news cycle never ends and Twitter can mean reporting on minute-to-minute deadlines, what should verification in journalism entail?

English’s column raises some good questions and provides some food for thought—both positive things, as she is moderating Thursday’s J-Talk, whose panel includes NPR’s Andy Carvin, GigaOM senior writer Mathew Ingram and newly-minted CBC ombud Esther Enkin.

They are questions not unfamiliar to the panellists.

At a CJF J-Talk in September, The New York Times’ David Carr referenced New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones’ proclamation that Twitter is like a “self-cleaning oven.” Ingram has since used that term to describe the power of the social crowd to identify and collectively correct errors, rumours and fakes when they appear online. Andy Carvin, senior social media strategist at NPR, is known as “the man who tweets revolutions.” He has spoken about verification and social media’s role in journalism in the past. And Esther Enkin often tweets about ethics and journalistic verification in addition to her CBC Ombudsman reports.

Check out English’s column in full for more on why we shouldn’t blame Twitter for real-time reporting errors.

J-Source will be livestreaming and liveblogging next Thursday’s CJF J-Talk at 6:30 p.m. EST, so check back with us then.