Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Breaking news and reader comments: Why The Guardian got it wrong ... this time

Today's horrific shooting rampage in Cumbria has again shown the power of the web for breaking news.

You don't want to hear me go on about how the internet has revolutionised how the journalist works when faced with those 'hold the front page' moments - but it's well worth taking a look how Cumbrian-based journalist Nick Turner has covered today's news on Twitter.

But one notable journalistic issue raised its head this afternoon.

The Guardian was running a liveblog/running story to quickly and effectively break the news as and when it happened.  Providing a much needed public service as people wanted to know what was going on.

But the service took an unexpected (for me at least) bashing from some commenters on the site who claimed The Guardian was being Fox News-like by allowing commenting.

You can read some of the comments on Jon Slattery's blog who spotted the exchange and directly on the running story on The Guardian's site. editor Janine Gibson posted:
"There are very good technical reasons to cover a fast unfolding story in this way, which are nothing to do with turning into Fox News but are to do with speed of publishing and being able to correct things quickly.

"However, we've discussed it and think the bulk of commenters are correct, it's not a particularly useful way to source information on a story such as this, so we will turn the comments off. Thanks to those who raised it constructively."

While everyone is disturbed by a story of what appears to be a man going on a murderous shooting rampage - particularly in this country where this type of outrage is thankfully rare - The Guardian was wrong to turn the comments off.

The readers' comments are as valid and as informing as the journalists'.

Throughout the day, reporters have been largely working on speculation. Take for instance the early reports that the gunman started his rampage by shooting his mother.  A 'fact' which has since been disproved [at the time of typing at least].

So giving people the chance to comment and discuss the issues as they happen is part of modern journalism.

I'm not talking about the comments which would formerly have been written in green ink (I see more than my fair share of them), I'm talking about the sensible discussions and comments from readers who were most likely watching the events unfold in all their horror live on TV.

So I for one think it was a shame that The Guardian disabled comments - a shame and a missed opportunity.

Breaking news isn't just about the bare facts. What are 'facts' anyway when it comes to true breaking news. Don't forget, 'not wrong for long'.

One of journalism's main functions is to capture the moment.  Capturing the discussion as it happens is that moment.

[It's also worth taking a look at how a local newspaper and website quickly turned a massive national story around in print and online]

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