You Tweet. You Facebook. You Link In. You’re as public on social media as you can be with hundreds plus of friends and colleagues. Expect to be contacted by media in the wake of tragedy. The pulse of public chatter provides another way for journalists to find out who’s who and what’s what. It’s still up to you, however, to decide if you want to respond and how you want to respond.
Media quickly turn to social media to fill in the blanks or find the blanks to fill.
This resulted in a rare on-air correction from ABC’s Brian Ross who incorrectly linked the Colorado shooter James Holmes to the Tea Party. His source? A web page that listed a Jim Holmes, but wasn’t the suspect.
Ross now suffers the sling and arrows of the critics and comedians. (Jon Stewart mocking Brian Ross: “I put the name James Holmes into my search engine and hit the ‘I’m feeling lazy’ button.”)
The overuse of social media also led to a request from the Aurora, Colorado, police chief. He specifically asked the media for a little sanity in their quest to seek out more information.
Unfortunately, social media is often the easiest way to find something for posting, linking or retweeting. It can spread faster than a new strain of a killer flu virus.
None of us are immune from spreading the germs of being social, and most folks aren’t trained to check the credibility of sources (or question motives) before linking or posting.
All journalists are under pressure to post, push and use the right SEO terms in order to be found online first.
But this often leads to a backwash of journalists opining on Twitter, and worse, speculating about what’s next and retweeting casual asides. We follow many journalists who are often more interested in promoting their own tweets than actually providing critical information to the public at large.
Poynter, one of the premier training organizations for journalists, recently posted a missive on “how to approach sources on Twitter when covering tragedies like the Colorado shooting.” Most of the suggestions were common sense such as “being empathetic.” Any journalist should do so if trained correctly in covering tragedy and catastrophe. But my favorite piece of advice has to be (and one would again think this is common sense): “Lay off the exclamation points.”
Insensitive, you bet. Idiotic, most certainly in the wake of a tragedy. Yet we still see many Js post updates on homicides and horrific trial outcomes using exclamation points as a daily occurrence.
Where do most media go to dig on social media? Wherever they can.
Tracy Wahl, senior supervising producer of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” told Poynter that Twitter, Storify and Facebook are the top places her staff visit to “see what people are saying.”
When 3 out of every 4 people around the world have access to mobile information, think how fast erroneous information can follow.
Decades ago British statesman, orator and author Winston Churchill said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” He must have been an oracle as well as an orator.
But just like the lesson in J School 101, just because people are saying it (even a lot of people on social media) – doesn’t mean it’s true.
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