Covering Michael Jackson’s death: Inside the mind of a NewsOK editor
The news of Michael Jackson’s death broke up a meeting I was in Thursday afternoon.
“Michael Jackson … dead!” said sports editor Mike Sherman (though it didn’t sound as undignified as it does when I typed it on this blog). “TMZ is reporting it.”
I walked back to my office and called our digital news editor, Robb Hibbard.
“You have this Jackson story?”
“It’s not on AP yet,” he said. “I’d hate to put it up if one of our sources doesn’t have it confirmed.”
And with that statement, Robb summed up an issue that is constantly discussed in our News and Information Center (and throughout the social media landscape).
I logged on to Twitter. Everyone was talking about Jackson’s death. It was by far the No. 1 trending topic on the social media Web site. As a matter of fact, topics about him were dominating the top 10 trending topics.
There were plenty of comments on Twitter, as well, about how non-traditional media (like TMZ) and social media (Twitter and Facebook) were spreading the breaking news faster than any of the “old-school media” (like CNN, the L.A. Times and the Associated Press).
Here are a few:
Gossipers (TMZ, Perez) say he’s dead. CNN, LA Times haven’t confirmed. Old media slowness rides again!
— from @mkokc (our former multimedia editor Mike Koehler and current New Media Director for Schnake Turnbo Frank public relations firm)
Half hour or so after Twitter told me Michael Jackson died, Washington Post email alert caught up. Still waiting for NY Times “alert.”
— From @stevebuttry (Steve Buttry, a news executive at the gazetteonline.com in Cedar Rapids, IA)
And those are just a couple of the many similar posts I saw from the 163 users I happen to follow.
The discussion was clear. Online users are often discovering breaking information faster through their Twitter stream than through traditional online media sources. Which, in the case of yesterday, there’s no disputing.
Some defenders of traditional media companies responded by saying something to the effect of “they’d rather have it correct than have it fast.” That’s a quality argument, but not one that plays well with the non-journalist crowd. But it’s a dilemma that we at OPUBCO Communications Group and other like companies face every day.
What did we do? Instincts told us that TMZ was likely correct. But the sources that we partner with to provide trusted information (AP and other wire services) had not yet felt comfortable with their verification process. We don’t have a reporter stationed in Southern California, so we have to rely on our partnerships. So, within about 10 minutes, we re-positioned the story we had about Jackson being taken to the hospital while adding a separate link to the TMZ report. We wanted to inform our users that another media outlet was reporting his death, and we wanted to be very clear about who was reporting that information.
The L.A. Times eventually reported that he had died, and other outlets followed. What remained was the criticism of such media sources, especially through Twitter posts. But the criticism would have been much worse had traditional outlets reported something that turned out to be untrue.
The fact remains – the traditional media companies are held to a higher standard and sometimes in a bind. If they don’t publish “the buzz,” then they are seen as old-fashioned and slow to react. But if they do publish “the buzz,” then they are seen as journalists spreading rumors.
At NewsOK, We have used our blogs to join the conversation on some of our beats. We’ve been open about publishing “buzz-worthy” information on some of our blogs, while trying to be very transparent about the source of the links.
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