Posted by Kevin Loker | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 28-05-2010
Twitter, as great as it is for getting news out quickly, has some complications news media has yet to master.
A quick overview of correcting errors in headlines across different mediums:
Print: You have layers of eyes that read over the paper before it goes to print. You ideally don’t make a mistake in the headline. If you do, you print a correction in the next issue. Most people pay attention to your correction box, because it’s in a regular location and they see it as they browse the rest of your publication.
While damage control is unwanted, it’s possible because of the format.
Web: You probably have a few less layers of eyes that read over your headline before you hit publish, but in most cases, you still have some. You ideally don’t make a mistake in the headline. If you do, however, you can change it by updating the page. Most news outlets will make note of major changes somewhere on the page, because not many people will regularly seek out a correction box on your Web site.
Monkey Wrench #1: A lot of your readers aren’t going to return to any particular story make sure everything they’ve already read is still right. We assume whatever is published is accurate.
Nonetheless, thanks to the format, while damage control is unwanted, you can at least make it visible should anyone decide to return.
Twitter: You probably have one – maybe two – sets of eyes that read over your headline before it’s tweeted. You ideally don’t make a mistake in the headline. If you do, you can’t change it. Most news outlets will send out another tweet noting the correction, because as in any medium, it’s common practice that errors can’t be left completely unattended.
Monkey Wrench #1 still applies. People aren’t going to scan your Twitter feed for corrections. But there’s also…
Monkey Wrench #2: Twitter is live, and people are using it as their news source. More and more, people will use the information they get in 140 characters or less on Twitter as their knowledge source for the day, without visiting an actual news site (and let alone picking up something in print). This is not what everyone does, but as we grow more and more wired to technology and “instant information,” it is important to note that some do. I know many people, including sometimes regrettably myself, who will retweet news material without clicking through the link. Is this ideal? By all means no. But it is a cultural practice.
When put in combination with the format of Twitter, factual or just misleading errors can have far-reaching impact on the general populace.
[EDIT: Twitter user @DevonSchreiner makes a valid point-- on the Twitter site, you do have the option to delete a tweet. You can make the mistake "go away" there. This doesn't appear to be the case, however, with tweets appearing in application feeds like those of Seesmic or HootSuite. Once they're there, they seem to stay, at least for awhile. Moreover, it's after the damage is already done. The "live" nature of Twitter should be the media's main concern.]
“So what, Kevin? Isn’t it common sense that making errors in a profession where your job is to report the facts a bad idea?” Of course. But because of the technology and the habitual use that accompanies it, the stakes are higher. If we the media flub up on Twitter, and my generalizations about the mass public are right, mistakes make the immediately public in the dark when they think they’re most up-to-date. Depending on the situation and error, that could be a little issue or it could be a life-threatening one.
1) This doesn’t affect media gurus. People who inhale news and track it with keywords in HootSuite will know when a mistake is made, they’ll see the correction, and they’ll be “in the know.” The problem lies in the people who don’t focus on news 24/7 (which may be hard to imagine, as we do nothing but that).
2) A degree of responsibility still lies in each individual in your audience. Just as it’s an individual’s own actions that lead them to a correction box in a print publication, it’s an individual’s own actions that make them knowledgeable or ignorant about any given news story. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t expect them to keep tabs in the same manner we do. It’s our job, not theirs.