Breaking news and breaking bones

On Wednesday, an accident at the Metro Rail Transit left at least 36 people injured. The wayward MRT coach was derailed and overshot the railings at Edsa-Taft station. People were shocked, to say the least.

My photo of the derailed MRT coach, several hours after the accident.

My photo of the derailed MRT coach, several hours after the accident.

I was at the media center at that time and was among the first who noticed the news. It was just a flash report, a four to five word breaking news head flashed at the bottom of the television screen. Reading the words aloud caught the attention of those seated beside me. For the next few minutes we scoured social media and found pictures and more reports on the accident.

Breaking news nowadays debut first on social media before being picked up by news outlets — unless it happened in an event where reporters were present.

GMA7, for example, was able to break the news through the help of its “Youscoopers.” Online media, on the other hand, utilized photos posted by readers and curated through Storify and other social media tools.

While social media and citizen journalism make it easier for media to monitor breaking news and gather material, PR Newswire’s media relations manager Amanda Hicken points out that such “immediacy also places pressure on the media to break news significantly faster than before – measured in minutes and seconds, 24/7.”

Achieving both speed and accuracy is the ultimate goal of online and broadcast media. And it is never really easy when confronted with the need to confirm and verify first before giving into the urge to break based on perhaps one unconfirmed report.

I remember last year when Bohol and Cebu and other parts of Visayas were hit by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. Our first break was based on a USGS alert, which took several minutes to be verified by Phivolcs. And it was only later – through photos posted by netizens on Twitter and Facebook – that those in Manila realized the extent and actual damage caused by the earthquake. The problem then, besides the race to break first was to confirm which photos were authentic and could be used on the website. Many netizens told us “Sure you can use that photo” only to discover that it was not theirs to begin with. We had to track down the original photographers and ask for their permission.

Nieman Fellow Hong Qu emphasizes the difference of journalists from netizens. While both can break news, the former still has the leverage when it comes to reach, as well as the credibility.

“The pace of the news cycle is quickening, but the fundamental responsibility of a journalist to gather and disseminate reliable news hasn’t changed, nor will it be supplanted by savvy social media auteurs. The only way for any person to become a good reporter — regardless of whether she has a degree or works for a news organization — is to consistently produce news stories in a way that is useful and engaging to consumers of news,” he says.

Last month we attended an informal seminar facilitated by the Associated Press. And they (the editorial staff) kept telling us how much they value their reputation of being accurate. They said that while it takes years to build a reputation, it can be demolished within minutes after committing a single mistake.



Here’s a nice guide from Reuters on how they break news: The Drill for Breaking News



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3 thoughts on “Breaking news and breaking bones

  1. Amanda Hicken says:

    Thank you, Tine, for including my blog post in this. It’s an important issue that the media and public are – unfortunately – reminded of more frequently. If you’re interested, I put together a series on Beyond PR’s sister blog about online tools that help journalists factcheck their breaking news faster. You can find it here:

    I really enjoyed your post – you shared some great insights.

    • Tine says:

      Thank you for dropping by Amanda. And thanks for the link. Will share it with my colleagues. Yes, the media landscape is changing, along with the introduction of new technology. It’s always important to step back and analyse what’s happening and how to deal with the changes.

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