By the third day after the Boston attacks, we all knew that the breaking news rumors in social media and on 24 hour networks were likely less than accurate. Yet, despite the inaccuracy of this information and with our skepticism meters running high, we found ourselves glued to Twitter and the 24 hour networks.
Here's the sad truth: in a time of crises, we thirst for information to quench our frenzied minds. We want this information so badly that we will lower our standards and tune in to real-time and social sourced quasi-journalism.
Is this good for the news industry? Does it hurt the network's credibility?
That really depends on what the goals of the individual media outlet. I believe we will see a spectrum of responses to our new real-time and social-sourced dynamic.
Real-Time Outlets in search of large audiences (and the cash that come with them) will lower their journalistic integrity and will report on many inaccurate rumors, feeding the information beast. During breaking news, the mainstream masses will likely tune in as long as there is a modicum of integrity behind this reporting. But I don't know that these audiences will come back for the post-action analysis. This will
Accuracy Oriented Outlets with sacrifice the "breaking news" ratings for higher journalistic standards. But when the dust settles, I truly believe that the masses will look to those with high integrity for the after-action reporting. While Accuracy Oriented Outlets will have the gravitas and integrity to guide us back to normalcy, they may struggle to gain the mass appeal they lost during the breaking news. That said, these outlets may be able to court a premium audience and premium revenues to match. At the end of the day, I don't believe too many media outlets will want to wait for the dust to settle before reporting. This space will likely be reserved for slower media, such as print media. Some savvy accuracy-oriented outlets however, will turn to hard evidence such as live-video feeds of breaking news to augment their stories.
Hybrid Outlets will seek to maintain a real-time presence without sacraficing much of their their journalistic integrity. This is where most mainstream media outlets will find themselves situated. Hybrid Outlets will take the gamble that most people will tune in for just the right mix of timely reporting and accuracy, and will stay tuned in for the post-action reporting as the outlet did not seriously damage their integrity. These outlets will make heavy use of social media, but with a level of healthy journalism-turned filtering. They will heavily feature and repost verified news such as live-video in the interest of keeping their audiences glued to their feeds.
I don't know which model will prove the most successful. But in an era with truly democratized digital reach, we cannot expect all media outlets to maintain high journalistic standards. The market demands a breaking news, low-to-mid fidelity solution. And someone is going to rise/lower themselves to the occasion.