Real-time Web + journalism = Real-time reporting

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.

DaAnGrYASiAN was one of the first tweets from scene

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:

WebJournalist's tip to D.C. reporters

WebJournalist's second tip to D.C. reporters

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.

Mikefa123 checked into the location hours before the standoff

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.

techsavvymama retweets a photo from the scene circulating the Web.

DaAnGrYASiAN wrongfully thought to be the gunman

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.

But mistakes will happen — in both paper and pixels.

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.

YFrog pic of someone with gun

Former Discovery employee explain why it probably isn't 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 protected]) or through Twitter (@webjournalist). Yes, he’s a tech/journo geek.

About Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Hernandez has been working in Web journalism for more than a decade. He has worked for,,, La Prensa Gr


  1. Spot-on post, Robert! I add some resources for real-time reporting here:
    Social Media Sphere

    In addition to reaching out for confirmation via social media, keeping traditional sources in the loop can be helpful. Montgomery County police confirmed that the person in the courtyard photo was one of their tactical officers.

  2. says:

    Enlightening article to say the least. I am about to graduate with a Journalism degree from CSU and we are talking about using social media as a legitimate source of information. I will be sure to bring this up in class.

  3. says: