"Being first is not as important as being right" when it comes to breaking news, a BBC editor stressed at an Online News Association (ONA) event yesterday.
Nathalie Malinarich, acting editor, mobile, at BBC News Online, was speaking alongside editors from Associated press (AP) and Reuters News at the event to discuss how journalists can juggle speedy reporting with accuracy and verification.
In today's culture of real-time news, the pressure is on journalists and newsrooms to get information out as quickly as possible. However, when using information from social media and user-generated content (UGC) Malinarich urged reporters to always take time to verify.
"Trust is a key thing [for audiences]," she added. "It's the one thing you don't want to lose."
Malinarich also said that good journalism was not just about being the first to break news – the speed at which news outlets follow-up with photos, videos and in-depth analysis is also key.
For speedy verification, Malinarich said it was important that journalists were equipped with the right tools and skills to enable them to know "what and when and how" to verify information.
Fergus Bell, social media and UGC editor at AP, shared the outlet's process for verification, which included tips such as finding the earliest example of the information posted to social media – checking the source's social history, for example, to see how long they've been registered on the platform and how they have been using it – and comparing UGC information with official reports.
Mark Jones, global communities editor for Reuters News, noted that when news breaks journalists often find they have to weigh up the need to serve their audiences, with the reputational risk of publishing misinformation.
"We'll report on rumours before we've been able to confirm or knock them down if they may have significant impact on market prices."
"Ultimately you have to make judgement calls."
Malinarich also noted how smartphones have increased people's expectations of real-time news, putting pressure on newsrooms to produce and verify content much faster.
"Mobile has been an absolute game-changer," she said. "The chances are, if something [newsworthy] happens, someone has caught it on camera," she said.
However, Bell pointed out it was important for journalists to act responsibly when dealing with UGC.
"Ownership is important," he said. "Is using YouTube as a credit ever justified, rather than finding the original content creator and crediting them?"
This definition of a journalistic responsibility also extends to taking steps to ensure citizen journalists in hostile environments are not put at risk.
Bell said that while AP used existing content published by citizen journalists in crisis zones to platforms such as Bambuser, they would never ask people to go out and create that content for them.
He added that journalists should also take care to protect sources reporting from conflict zones by not revealing potentially sensitive information such as location.
"People live-streaming from rooftops could be attacked," he said. "If I can work out where that person is and I put that out [online], that would be irresponsible."
One way that the BBC tries to avoid putting sources in conflict zones at unnecessary risk is by using unbranded Skype and Gmail accounts to communicate with them, and keeping messages as vague as possible.
Social media has also to some extent changed the way citizen journalists create content, Jones noted. For example, he has noticed people in the Ukraine "feel the need" to write posts in English, although due to translation issues the meaning is not always clear.There's a leap from a tweet to reporting what it meant in contextMark Jones, Reuters
"That does slow things down," he said. "There's a leap from a tweet to reporting what it meant in context."
As a final point, Bell said it was important for journalists and newsrooms to "educate the audience" in what verification means, to enable them to check information for themselves before 'liking' or retweeting.
"We have a role to play in being very transparent about how we verify information so they know they can use the same processes," he said.
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