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By Nikki Burdine, LEX18
Timing is everything.
Journalists are competitive by nature. We want to be the one with the information first, fast and of course accurately. We want to be the best. Ratings are our version of the Olympics, and we love training and competing. But does the competition ever get in the way of our job, which ultimately is to inform the public?
I love social media, and the ability to Tweet or Facebook the breaking news the second I hear about it. It’s a little bit of the, “look what I know!” Reporters know what I mean. We love being first. First on the scene, first on the web, first over the air. But is there ever a time when you shouldn’t let everyone (including your competition) know what you’re doing? Let’s say you get a tip about some breaking news and it’s not the obvious “car crash on Interstate X” that every station will find out about in a matter of minutes.
It’s the breaking news that’s in that obscure county, where most people don’t have contacts and have to rely on tipsters. First thing’s first, you grab your photographer and run out the door. But on your way there, do you Tweet or post on Facebook to your viewers what you’re doing? My first thought is yes, they need to know, especially if it affects them. But when you post it on the web, you also tip off your competition.
Case in point, I follow several other reporters in our market on Twitter and Facebook, and I can remember at least one story we wouldn’t have otherwise known about had I not seen the competitors “status update.” I’ve also been told from competitors that they heard about the breaking news from my tweets. Oops.
Additionally, while anchoring the weekend shows, I am responsible for web content. I post stories to the web, to Facebook and Twitter and stay in house before anchoring. Reporters call the station with their info while they’re out in the field, and often times I’ve held on to content if the competition wasn’t there before posting to the web. If the competition is on the scene and they know about it, sure, we post it right away. Or if it’s extremely important for the public to know, I post it. But there have been several instances when we will hold our information from going online until right before the 6:00 show. So as not to tip off the competition before the evening news.
Is this a bad practice? Is this unethical? If it’s not an immediate need for people to know about, what’s the rush? On the flip side, winning isn’t (so they say) everything. So isn’t our first responsibility to inform the public? What do you think?
Another point to consider is the way local news is evolving. Does posting your story to the web first, in fact, make you “first?” Does that give you the “breaking news” credit? Or does it have to be on the evening news? I think truly it depends on the market. In Lexington ,we cover a lot of different areas of Kentucky. Some of our viewers are always on Facebook and on our website, LEX18.com (this is evident with LEX 18’s more than 69,000 Facebook fans) but lots of our viewers don’t have internet, nor will they ever.
In the NYC’s and the Boston’s and the LA’s, what is the general practice? Do you post information as soon as you get it all the time? Or do you wait as to not tip of your competition in some cases? Is it better to be first or best? Do we have to choose?
It seems to me, the best practice is to post what confirmed information you have online as soon as you get it. Whether it’s on your Facebook page or your website, our number one priority is to get information to the public. We provide a service, and we should let our competitive nature subside as to make sure we are doing our job. I know it’s easier said than done, and hopefully writing this post will be my motivator to inform as opposed to waiting.