The next phase of the Internet affecting journalism — for better or worse — is well underway.
We started out with websites, then blogs, then the interactivity of Web 2.0. Now, we are in the era of the real-time Web.
Which, for us in journalism, means real-time reporting.
This next phase has the power to improve and advance our journalism, but also puts our core journalistic values to the test.
Twitter’s original question, “What are you doing?” has evolved to “What’s happening?” Social media has made telling people where you are, what you think, and what you see, common expressions on the Web — again, for better or worse.
Yes, social media is routinely filled with TMI and, quite frankly, unless information. But it also has given the average person the ability to document and share newsworthy and historical events the moment they
happen are happening.
Just look at a recent example, from a few weeks ago: A gunman walked into the Discovery Channel‘s headquarters, taking people hostage.
The real-time Web went to work with first-hand witnesses.
I was in my office, across the country, when the news began to break. For those who know me and have attended my workshops, you’ve heard me go on about harnessing the power of social media.
Well, here was a perfect example. So, I tweeted two tips:
Searching Twitter, I was able to find people sending updates from the Discovery Channel’s zip code (Here are some highlights that I found). Using FourSquare, I was able to find someone who had “checked in” to the building before the incident.
Possible witnesses, potential sources.
The power of the real-time Web was in full swing… and so was its potential danger: People with best intentions can give incorrect information.
Now, don’t become all traditionalists on me and dismiss this new phase by saying that risk of misinformation is way too high. Let’s be honest here, the concept of possible bad information has been around long before Twitter… and even before the Web.
Remember that saying, “if your mom says she loves you, check it out.” Well, if your mom tweets she loves you, check it out.
These are not facts. These are tips. These are potential sources. These are places you as a journalist bring your core values — news judgment, ethics, accuracy, transparency — to vet information to make sure you have accurate information.
That’s why our core values are so important. They should constantly guide us through any story, under any deadline.
In the real-time Web, speed is highly valued. But responsibility and credibility outweigh that. Be known for getting it right first, not for getting it first and wrong.
This is where being a “professional,” whatever that means, matters. But remember, the real-time Web also can help. Here’s that photo that @techsavvymama retweeted, along with an explanation from a former Discovery Channel employee why the person in the photo likely is not the gunman.
NOTE: @techsavvymama messaged me immediately after I published this post to say that she believes the garden is, in fact, open to the public.
For the record, real-time reporting is more than just using social media.
A reporter can be sending out images or live video (UStream, Qik, Twitcasting, etc.) from his or her cell phone. A photographer or reporter could be automatically uploading images from his or her camera using technology like the Eye-Fi.
It’s journalism without a safety net… it’s hyperlocal AND global journalism… it’s working under the deadline of now, 15 minutes from now and 15 minutes ago.
The journalism game has changed — again. And this won’t be the last time. While technology evolves, what are constant and never-changing are our core journalistic values.
Hold them close as you harness the power of real-time reporting.
Robert Hernandez is a Web Journalism professor at USC Annenberg and co-creator of #wjchat, a weekly chat for Web Journalists held on Twitter. You can contact him by email (email@example.com) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.