Today's trust tip: Explain how breaking news works
Hi there. Lynn here.
This post is from the Trust Tips archive. After a week of mass shootings in the U.S., we wanted to reiterate how important it is to explain how you cover breaking news. Some newsrooms are already doing this. At the end of a story about the shooting in Dayton, Ohio, NPR added a note explaining how they work to cover breaking news. (It would be even better at the top.)
Breaking news is a term that elicits varied feelings for journalists. It seems to always be a hectic time, with people and information moving at lightning speeds. It’s also when news organizations have an opportunity to fulfill one of their top duties: providing accurate information to the public.
While a lot of us thrive and feel an adrenaline rush during breaking news situations, it’s also a time when most mistakes happen. And our audiences notice.
I’m not saying breaking news provides an excuse for mistakes. But we have to acknowledge that we'll get things wrong — and definitely be incomplete — in chaotic situations. So, are you explaining this to your audience?
We strive to prevent mistakes, but we don’t often explain how we do this. And in breaking news situations, we really should. We should explain how we are gathering information and fact-checking, and how and when a situation has changed. Doing this helps the audience understand our process and what we are doing to prevent mistakes, and it allows us to be honest about what we know and don’t know.
One of our newsroom partners, WUSA, found itself in a breaking news situation after receiving a 911 audio recording shortly before going on air. To let the user in on their reporting process they added the following language to the end of the story relating to the 911 call: “We have about a half-hour of 911 audio that our team is going through, right now. If there's anything else in there that's important to pass along, we'll have it for you tomorrow morning on Wake up Washington."
In the example above, another newsroom partner, WITF, decided to add an editor's note to a breaking news story in order to reassure readers that "we'll only point to the best information we have at the time" and that any errors would be quickly corrected.
TRY THIS: Work with your newsroom to develop language you can add to breaking news stories (online, in print and on-air) to explain how quickly information flows in these situations and what your approach to is changing situations. Talk about how you will update the information and where the latest updates can be found. (Will it be online, or on social? Will you remove incorrect information?) Consider adding language that makes it clear that the facts in these situations can change and information is moving quickly.
— Lynn Walsh, Trusting News assistant director
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