Getting it right is platform agnostic

July 29, 2011

Yesterday, in the rush to be first, what appeared to be a legitimate breaking news story from a reliable source spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse, only to have it turn out to be completely false. I happened to be one of the people who saw Jon Snow of London’s Channel 4 inaccurate tweet, ““Piers Morgan suspended by CNN over phone hacking…the rise and rise, and fall and rise, and fall of Piers Morgan!”

On my personal Twitter account, instead of RTing Jon’s tweet, I posted the news as quickly as I could, seeing that it came from an established media person at a legitimate news organization. This was the biggest mistake I made. In 99 out of a hundred cases, I expect Jon to report the news accurately. But this was one of the times a real news person was duped. While it shouldn’t happen, it does from time to time, especially when one is rushing to report “breaking” news.

There’s a lot of differing opinions on what Twitter should and should not be. My colleague Felix Salmon writes:

… one of the great things about Twitter is its immediacy, the way in which people are talking to each other without carefully thinking first about whether or not everything they’re saying holds up to the standards of some grand and noble news organization. That’s something valuable, and it would be a shame if a small group of self-appointed media-ethics priests tried to crack down on it.

While Felix enjoys the “immediacy” of Twitter, he is right to be skeptical about what he see’s on it. We all should be. For better or for worse, many people have come to rely on me to get their news over Twitter. While I would prefer to be faster and looser, I certainly do not want to be reporting — or retweeting — false news. It doesn’t mean I’ll avoid reporting breaking news. Instead, I’ll be much more careful and take the extra steps to verify it.

This incident just goes to show that no matter how much you trust a source, even a reputable one affiliated with a legitimate organization, you should always confirm the information yourself.

Our company accounts like @Reuters are given much more scrutiny, which is why something like the Piers Morgan tweet never passed through on it. Reuters is extremely careful about sharing any information and does not do so until we are absolutely certain of the information.

Some may see Twitter as a newsroom, as I do too. While Twitter is different things to different people, as a journalist it is more important to get it right rather than be an enabler of false information. I have learned my lesson and hope never to make the same mistake again.

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