Breaking news – and fixing it

17 March 2017
Share this story
The good, the bad and the medley: how things have changed from bulletins to Twitter-feeds. Or have they?

Through the night hours in a BBC newsroom, the gallery screens never sleep.

Asia markets resurrect Bloomberg tickers, a distant vacuum hums, there’s the purr of a printer and in New York, Shang Hai and London it’s 20 minutes before the next top-of-the-hour. An engineer is slumped across the sound desk – a polystyrene cup out of harm’s way; the vision mixer, cocooned in a fleece and director’s swivel chair, stirs in a shiver of aircon.

The next running order, the same as the last, appears as my monitor awakes in a green fuzz at 2.45am. In a BBC World studio, before news was online, my common default on a slow shift was scanning the newswires.

‘……TWA airliner down over Atlantic’ was like a fuse wire from Reuters. I glanced through the dividing window for signs of life… an editor – and piped up on talk-back, since I had spotted it first.

Reuters was the definitive agency source, so little more was required. Producers sparked into action. The general rule was two-source confirmation to break a story on air, and it was only moments before the second. The 03:00 headline script confirmed: TWA 800 down off US Atlantic coast. Eyewitness: ‘It exploded’.

So-called ‘rolling news’ came of age with CNN’s unprecedented coverage of the Gulf War. For the BBC, ever resourceful, its 24/7 news-cycle was born in little more than a broom cupboard.

The good, the bad and the medley: how things have changed – evolved – from bulletins to Twitter-feeds. Or have they…?

CNN, its own eyewitness in the al-Rashid Hotel, Baghdad, had only to look out of the window. More than 25-years-on, the phone is smarter than the sword – and a window for everyone. News is still all about being first. And being accurate.

In Paris a gunman opens fire on the Champs-Elysees. I learn this from Sky News. They know it from Twitter activity, stringer phone calls and news agency wires. AFP has ‘sources’ – eyewitnesses – friends of eyewitnesses, Twitter followers of friends – so we’re probably OK with ‘sources’ in what’s a muddle-soup of news.

The facts surface in initial reactions – both an asset and hindrance to newsgathering – and AFP tweets that the incident is a robbery. The line is important because producers must quickly decipher the known fragments of story to gauge the greater news value; important because agencies are verified sources. It’s important because a police officer is dead.

‘Two police officers’ are dead, so tweets @PrisonPlanet, an online news source. Sky News briefly flashes the line soon after: ‘AFP – policeman killed in Paris robbery’.

AFP is fast to realise its mistake: ‘#CORRECTION @AFP has not confirmed that the shooter was a robber. We will delete our earlier tweet’. But not before dozens of re-tweets. Then follows: ‘You people delete a lot of tweets for a news service’ and ‘There’s a reason people don’t trust you, & resort to following “fake news”’.

Others are ‘glad attack was foiled’, replying to @PrisonPlanet: ‘Sorry to see 2 police dead…’ and: ‘If this is true you’re so much quicker than French news sources themselves. I see nothing on live TV on this for now.

The Champs-Elysees is jammed with armed response units and TV vehicles.

In the context of a shipping casualty viewed from the shore, social media jumps on the back of any line. Being first and being followed is all-important. Being right, as a spokesperson, is as critical.

It’s a tough call for news editors. I’m not dissing AFP, among the best of news agencies, when a Twitter-feed is as good as a wire service. For CEOs the lesson learnt is the same: correction at source; not to fuel the narrative with inaccuracies.

Mistakes are errors in the moment, something misheard on the street – from the bridge. Unintentional. The smart thing is to realise it and fix it.

For a few minutes more… we’ve a chance of discerning between the first, the fast and the fake. Something to consider as a finger hovers over share, post or re-tweet – when the screens never sleep.

 

Jonathan Spencer
Crisis Response Manager

T: +44 (0)20 3326 8466
E: jonathan.spencer@navigateresponse.com

Sign up for our Newsletter

24/7 INCIDENT LINE:

A wholly owned subsidiary of Witt O’Brien’s, Navigate Response is the world’s leading crisis media response agency for maritime and shipping.

LONDON

Salisbury House
29 Finsbury Circus
London EC2M 7AQ
United Kingdom

T: + 44 (0)20 3326 8451
enquiries@navigateresponse.com

PARTNERS WORLDWIDE

SINGAPORE

23B Teo Hong Road
Singapore 088332

T: +65 6222 6375
asia@navigateresponse.com

HOUSTON

818 Town & Country Blvd.,
Suite 200
Houston, Texas 77024

T: +1 281 320 9796
contact@wittobriens.com

NEWSLETTER REGISTRATION

Please submit this form to receive our email newsletter

Please indicate that you have read and agree to the terms presented in Privacy Statement, Acceptable use policy, Terms of use and Cookie policy
Terms(Required)