Social media has changed not only the face of journalism. It has changed the entire standard for what is news and, in particular, what is considered “breaking news.”
With a 24-hour news hole to fill, 365 days a year, even professional reporters have been tripped up while trying to beat the next 24-hour news cycler to the punch. This is especially true in cable news. To make matters worse, the advent of the ability to go live from social media platforms has placed even more strain on publishing first and live.
These technological developments have become kryptonite to journalists in the making. Anyone familiar with Superman knows the compound makes him fallible, weak and vulnerable to major mistakes. The ability for young journalists to go live with a simple touch of a button can have a similar effect, raising the stress level of college professors trying to impart that live news — even while breaking — must be truthful and factual.
So, how does one teach students to hold onto the tenets of great journalism when they have the ability to publish information to the world in a matter of nanoseconds?
Here are a few tips for educators and students:
- Continue to drive home the idea that great journalism, in any form, still needs to be well-crafted. That means that no matter what the publishing platform, news still must be delivered factually.
- Have students practice “live” reporting events with their phones as part of a classroom project.
- Practice the process: When arriving at a scene, students should learn to follow the same steps as if they were “broadcasting” a story. Make an initial assessment of the scene. What is seen and heard? Where is the action? Who are the people in the scene? Is there any present danger?
- Ask questions — not only of the witnesses, but of an authority figure who can provide a more accurate and factual assessment. If they are busy, find others.
- Remember liability and accountability. Fact-check. Question again and again. Don’t assume that because something is happening at the moment that it must be the entire story. Other events may have occurred before the reporter arrived on the scene.
- Report only what is known. If it’s absolutely necessary to share unconfirmed details, be sure to inform the audience that the information is unconfirmed. Ideally, only confirmed information will be shared. Again, remember liability and accountability.
- Repeat bullet points two, three and four. Do a quick reassessment. Ask questions. Fact-check.
- Allow the camera to roll without a lot of verbal assessment. Provide only what one can see, but remind viewers it is a personal assessment being given with what is available. Let the audience know that information is still being gathered.
- Before “closing out” at the scene or stopping the live video, summarize.
DO IT WELL
Even though the 24-hour news cycle is no longer new, it still presents challenges when trying to provide live content. That often leads to fluff, with mistakes being reported instead of news.
Students should be fully cognizant of the fact that not everything happening in their environment is newsworthy, which leads back to teaching the good, solid, principled basics of great journalism. As a reminder, those are (1) getting at and reporting truth, (2) critiquing and understanding what is being reported, (3) covering all sides of a story, (4) including diverse voices, (5) reporting facts, (6) asking numerous questions and (7) getting it right, which is the only antidote to bad live-news reporting.
Pat Sanders is an associate professor at the University of North Alabama, where she teaches Radio-Television- Interactive Media and Journalism: Multimedia. Professionally, she worked as a reporter, anchor, news director and bureau chief in the commercial and public radio sectors. She is also a freelance voice artist. She conducts research on radio, digital technology/social media and diversity in higher education. Email her at email@example.com.
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