When I was in journalism school back in the 1990s, there was a formula we learned that defined the reporting process: Gather, sort, report. We were taught to first gather all the information we needed for a story, then sort it (organize it, structure it, etc.), and then write the story or go on the air.
One of the main ways journalism is changing in the digital age, especially with Twitter, is what’s called “news as process.” Rather than building a reporters’ work around one story, a reporter’s work is structured around publishing the story piecemeal, as it happens. The process is the story. One way of looking at it is that it turns around the formula I learned 15 years ago. It’s not gather, sort, report. It’s gather, report, sort. You get information, you report what you hear, and then you sort it into a story, either for print or to post online.
It’s easy to criticize this. But if we’re being honest, this is happening because it’s how we’re consuming news. We’re more likely to consume news in bits, as it happens, rather than wait for the one story at the end of the day or first thing in the morning.
But there’s a dark side to news as process. People can stretch that and think that throwing things out into the marketplace of idea counts as journalism, or that it’s OK to publish anything because it’s part of the “process.”
Which is how we get to this idiot.
Dan Tordjman is a TV reporter in North Carolina. On Wednesday afternoon, he posted this to his Twitter account (which used to be public but is now private and locked down): “Can’t confirm this but I’m hearing that Robinson #Cano tested positive for PEDs. Announcement from #MLB coming shortly. #Yankees”
A little while later, he followed up with: “Take a deep breath folks. I stated I “could not confirm” the #CanoPED report. Just.a rumor. Stay tuned. #MLB.” He later asked everyone to calm down, that he had just posted an “uncofirmed rumor.”
(Note: Because his account is now private, I couldn’t access the actual Tweets, even though I tried to bookmark them. Big props to The Big Lead for posting them earlier.)
First of all, I thought all rumors were unconfirmed. In fact, I think rumors are pretty much by definition unconfirmed. Moving on …
This is perhaps the most irresponsible act of alleged journalism I’ve seen on Twitter. To publish an unconfirmed rumor accusing a player of using performance-enhancing drugs and to admit that it is unconfirmed is … it’s unthinkable to anyone who has ever cared about this business. It’s terrible. It’s mortifying. It’s awful. It’s embarrassing for the entire business. If you can’t confirm something, why are you reporting it? Why aren’t you confirming it?
Here’s the thing, though: No matter what anybody says this week, this is not an indictment of Twitter journalism, or social media. It’s an indictment of lazy journalism. It’s an indictment of somebody who heard a rumor and instead of following up on it , making some phone calls, checking what people are saying on Twitter (you know, doing actual reporting), decided to post it on Twitter. Because it’s just Twitter, it’s fine. And hey, I labeled it as unconfirmed, so it’s cool.
It’s an indictment of somebody who was going for, in the words of Jay Rosen, an “ego-scoop” rather than doing real work to benefit his audience.
As a reporter, all you have is your credibility. All you have is the audience’s trust and belief that you’re getting things right. I hope Dan never has a real scoop, because if he does, who’s going to believe him?
There is wonderful journalism happening on social media these days. But every time something like this happens, every time somebody thinks “news as process” means “put everything I’ve heard out there in case it turns out to be right and then I’ll look awesome,” it just gives fodder to people who mistakenly think this is not a platform for real reporting.
Brian Moritz is a doctoral student at Syracuse University. He blogs at Sports Media Guy, where this post first appeared.
Image Credit: WSOC-TV