Two portraits of a decidedly different media

Posted on 07. Oct, 2011 by in Thoughts

When writing the news – whether it’s fast-paced, breaking hard news or updates from within a client’s industry – it’s important to take care and ensure accuracy above all things, and a good set of ethics should be front-and-centre when handling sensitive topics.

This week, the cross-section of how a topic can be covered was exemplified by stories on two disparate topics, which happened to be two of the largest stories in the news as well. Whether or not they pertain to any certain news feed, they show how the media can get it wrong – or just right.

Tributes pour out from every news channel for Jobs

In the case of Steve Jobs’ passing, heartfelt condolences and remembrances poured out from nearly all media channels – with the voices of fans, celebrities, colleagues, and hardened competitors piping up with kind words in tribute to Cupertino’s fallen leader.

Tossing aside any sort of agenda should be de rigueur in such a circumstance and though someone like Bill Gates once proudly asserted his children would not be hopping on the iPod train, he was one of the first commenters offering kind words on Jobs’ death.

News outlets quickly followed Apple’s announcements on the subject with tributes, retrospectives and man-on-the-street interviews showing Jobs’ direct impact to the average person over the course of his career. Though not journalists per se – but rather, where plenty of internet trawlers interact with their news and other information – Google paid tribute to the inventor and marketing innovator on their homepage.

Jumping the gun to break a news story – and where it got them

On the other hand, several media outlets dropped the ball this week as well, this time when reporting the outcome of the highly sensationalised Amanda Knox appeal trial. Appealing to have her murder conviction overturned, many outlets simply couldn’t wait to be the first to break the story and a couple were found publishing a guilty verdict (read: the exact opposite of the truth) before making sure all the details were correct.

The Sydney Morning Herald did a bang-up job explaining how it all went down.

Stories from outlets The Sun and The Daily Mail only stayed live for a short time, beating competitors to the punch, but at the price of misreporting and causing confusion for their readers. Sky News and, self-admittedly, the Guardian, also put forth misleading information on the verdict.

The error allegedly came down to the upholding of a slander ruling against Patrick Lumumba, as well as all verdicts being delivered in Italian, then translated somewhere along the way for the English-language publications. But, publishing such a pre-emptive story – where the lion’s share of the story had been formulated beforehand – only serves to damage the credibility and authority of these channels.

While this might seem a far cry from what’s generally put forth in client news services, the principles of ethics should remain standard across all journalism channels, even if they’re not hard news reported from the courtroom. Dedicated, on-site news services should be entrusted to those with the values who can uphold the high quality of reportage without risking inflammatory – or just plain false – articles.

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