a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Williams trial will affect information we receive

No, this blog is not another reminder of the horrific crimes of Russell Williams. So relax.

But just as Williams will be a case study of the evil of which human beings are capable, the way his sentencing was covered by the media will be a case study of its own.

The sentencing represents the first major court case in Canada in which reporters were allowed to cover every detail on Twitter, 140 characters at a time.

Every time there was a lurid detail of Williams’ crimes, a roomful of Tweeting reporters was there to alert the outside world – so much so that visitors to the Twitter site started asking for a halt within hours.

There is no point in worrying about how Tweets and other social media may or may not corrupt journalism. They will be affecting how the media report what we see and hear from now on.

In my experience – I first started writing for a living in the 1970s -- any new communications technology affects how the news is reported.

Computer keyboards meant journalists could write up to deadline. Videotape meant video could be on the air in minutes and so on. Technology affects how we are informed about our society.

What has not changed – and probably never will – is the media’s love for being first to report the news. Speed too often trumps accuracy, context or comprehension.

Believe or not, there was a time not too long ago when reporters could provide thoughtful coverage that gave their audience clear reasons why their stories were important.

How is a roomful of journalists constantly tweeting information supposed to supply context and perspective to Canadians?

Let’s hope the media come up with a way to compensate for what will no longer fit into Twitter journalism.

One thing is already apparent. Reporters rushing out Tweets will now be deciding on the spot what we see and hear instead of the editors back at the office. That means sound editorial judgment will often be missing from the product we receive – at least until the next technological development comes along.

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