Articles about "Breaking news reporting"

Former Houston Chronicle editor on breaking news: ‘Often AP is behind the game’

In a clip that accompanies the DVD release of “Citizen Hearst,” Houston Chronicle Executive Editor and Executive Vice President Jeff Cohen introduces Sylvia Wood, who was at the time an editor on the Hearst-owned paper’s breaking-news “Go Team” (she left the paper in September and now works for the Houston Independent School District). “Our goal every day is to be fast, first and accurate,” Wood says in the clip, which was filmed last summer, describing her work:

We look at the TV broadcasts, we look at the TV websites. We’re looking at Twitter. Often AP is behind the game when it comes to breaking news; we can get it faster from a lot of other sources. So besides covering the news landscape we’re also looking at what kinds of stories people are talking about. We can do a lot of aggregations on buzzy viral topics that are gonna engage readers with the website. So besides the breaking news, we’re also looking at, What is it that people want to talk about today? What are they going to click on that they want to talk with their friends about?

The clip is part of a special feature called “The State of News,” which looks at just that and features interviews with journalists within and without the Hearst corporation.

Correction: This post originally failed to mention Wood had left the Chronicle since the clip was filmed last year. Read more


New Guardian, Scoopshot efforts bring elements of automation to photo verification

User-generated content is rife with risk and opportunity.

The opportunity for it to deliver remarkable images is made clear on an almost-daily basis, be it in the midst of a crisis like the Boston Marathon bombings, Hurricane Sandy, or simply someone snapping a notable shot at a local event.

The risk is that images are easily faked, scraped and manipulated.

News organizations and others seeking to source images and information from the crowd therefore have no choice but to push forward with new methods of verification — and to make existing methods quicker and more accurate. So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing initial moves towards automating aspects of the verification process.

The Guardian and Scoopshot both recently unveiled new initiatives to bring an element of automation to verification. In both cases a human element is still essential. But as I noted previously, it’s important to see how much machines can help us deal with the challenge of verifying large amounts of content more quickly.

Authenticity scoring

Scoopshot is a crowdsourced photography service that enables news organizations to source (and assign) photographs from their community and from users around the world. Niko Ruokosuo, the CEO of Scoopshot, detailed his company’s new initiative in a recent announcement.

Ruokosuo said “we’ve developed a new tool within the Scoopshot ecosystem that instantly and graphically shows media companies the authenticity level of any user-submitted image. Our system basically substitutes an inherently flawed manual process that may take an hour per image for a highly-automated, intelligent programme that takes seconds.”

Scoopshot now delivers an authenticity score for each photo calculated based on data about an image — such as whether it was taken using their mobile app, and if the image’s metadata is available.

Similarly, the new GuardianWitness initiative, which enables its community to easily contribute images via the web or mobile apps, offers built-in functionality to gather a submission’s metadata, helping automate one aspect of verification.

Both efforts rely at least partly on EXIF data, which can tell you basic information about a digital image, such as the type of camera used, the exposure information, and other details.

“We wanted at least a basic level of verification to be applied before something was published on GuardianWitness,” Joanna Geary, the Guardian’s digital development editor, told me by email. “We are, however, sensitive to different types of content potentially requiring different levels of verification. So, for example, we might do some very basic copyright checks on a picture of a dog, but would go into much, much more detail for a picture from Syria.”

Along with automating the examination of EXIF data, the Guardian and Scoopshot both use native apps to help make it easier to authenticate aspects of an image. Having photographers work in a controlled setting, such as an app for taking pictures, can help answer questions about how a photo was created, according to Samaruddin Stewart, a current Knight Fellow at Stanford University who is researching “the use of image forensic tools to identify manipulation in potential news photographs.”

“In this route you can oversee the chain of custody and also layer in additional information that today’s smartphones are great at capturing,” he told me.

But Stewart also noted some of this approach’s limitations.

The biggest limitation, Stewart said, is the need to change user behavior, such as launching a specialized app to capture a photo or video instead of simply using a standard camera app, as users do “99% of the time.” Users can import visuals into an app from a camera roll, he noted, but this “heightens the risk of manipulations since the chain is broken.”

Economic incentives for automation

That’s why Scoopshot offers a score instead of a guarantee that an image is real. In the end, it’s up to the journalists accessing the system to decide whether a high score is enough, or if they need to dig deeper into how an image was created.  Speaking about the bars that signal authentication on Scoopshot, Ruokosuo told my colleague Andrew Beaujon that a news organization can “feel pretty good” about a three-bar photo.

A recent article about Scoopshot’s scoring system reported that it enabled a Dutch newspaper to publish “verified images from Scoopshot users within six minutes of asking for submissions.”

The article also noted that the company’s CEO “insisted that some agencies may still manually check images should they wish to, arguing that the software indicates risk rather than complete legitimacy.”

In Scoopshot’s case, automation is aimed at reducing the risk while increasing speed. The faster its clients can use images, the more it might be able to sell.

“Figuring out how to best source and vet these visuals at scale will likely determine who can ultimately grow engagement, differentiation, and likely revenue,” said Stewart.

Now that there are clear economic incentives for helping speed up and perfect this process, we’re likely to see further innovation. That means more tools to help with manipulation detection, analysis and other aspects of photo verification.

One company that’s already working on that is Fourandsix. It offers FourMatch, an extension for Photoshop that “instantly analyzes any open JPEG image to determine whether it is an untouched original from a digital camera.”

I spoke with co-founder Kevin Connor last year about the prospect of achieving 100 percent accuracy for image detection and verification.

“There’s a temptation to want to have some magic bullet or magic algorithm that will tell you whether an image is real or not, and we quickly realized that’s just not going to work,” he told me. “What you have to do is approach it as a detective and examine all the various clues in the image itself and the file that contains the image.”

For the Guardian, the lack of a magic bullet has required a large-scale training effort in the newsroom. As Geary told me, GuardianWitness verification mixes human and machine elements, but it’s “predominantly human.”

“When we built the back-end tools we made it a requirement to pull in some basic information (e.g. EXIF data) and make it visible to our team,” she said. “Then there are other checks they will do — some of which move into investigative work … Online verification can actually be quite a substantial act of journalism.”

In conjunction with the launch of GuardianWitness, the organization gave roughly 100 of its journalists training in verification by working with Storyful, a social-media news service that sources and verifies user-generated video for use by news organizations. (Disclosure: Spundge, the company where I’m a partner, continues to have discussions with Storyful about finding ways to work together.)

“I’m quite proud that we have taken so many through verification training, but I also recognize that it’s never enough and you can’t stop there,” Geary said. “This is a rapidly changing field and — in some cases — an outright fight to avoid spreading misinformation. As with all changing skills, different people pick it up at a different pace dependent on need and on understanding. We’d like to look into being able to keep up with training but to do this in a way that recognizes the demands of a newsroom and help people to learn on the job when they need to.”

Stewart and others say there will never be a Holy Grail of automated photo verification — the human element will always be necessary.

“I do not however think that we’ll have full automation any time soon or that we even should,” he said. “I think editorial scrutiny will always play a role.” But, he added, if he were running or planning a desk for user-generated visuals, “pursuing technical tests” for verification would certainly be a priority.

Stewart provided a good motto for the efforts to automate aspects of verification: “Launch and iterate is a far better strategy than ignore.” Read more

Boston Marathon Explosions

Compassion goes a long way when reporting on tragedies like Boston & Newtown

Journalists are often warned about the perils of getting emotionally involved with stories and subjects, but when reporting on a tragedy there’s always room to act as a human being first and a reporter second.

Reporting on the pain of the small college town of Blacksburg, Va., after the horrific 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, my natural instinct was to grieve with the folks there. At the time, though, I didn’t know how to use my emotions as a compass to help me connect with people I needed to interview.

But six years later, I know that for journalists in such terrible situations our humanity is a strength, not a weakness.

Bill Leukhardt, a reporter with the Hartford Courant, has seen tragedy from both sides. His stepdaughter, Lauren Rousseau, was one of the teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

Leukhardt, whose wife is also a journalist, said during a recent symposium at Columbia University dealing with breaking news, trauma and the aftermath that they understood why they received so many media inquiries after their stepdaughter’s death. But that didn’t make it any easier to open up for interviews.

The symposium was presented by Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism and the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma on Monday in New York City for an audience of mostly working journalists and journalism students.

Leukhardt and many other panelists had an overarching message for reporters speaking to the grieving: show compassion and acknowledge loss.

“Kindness is what really resonates with families,” Leukhardt said, adding that when people who knew victims don’t want to be interviewed, leave them alone. “Be respectful, be kind.”

Leukhardt’s advice was echoed throughout the day.

Pat Llodra, the First Selectwoman of Newtown, said she stressed the need for compassion with reporters during the first formal press conference in Newtown after the shootings.

“The message that I had to everyone gathered there was to remind them that it makes a difference to our community what you say,” recalled Llodra. “[I also told them that] how you represent us will make a difference in how we are seen to the world.”

Llodra and other residents of Newtown didn’t want to become known only as the place where a “horrible thing happened.” With that in mind, she recalled telling the press that “you hold our future a little bit in your hands, so please treat us gently, treat us with care.”

Controlling the message

After Sandy Hook, officials found themselves having to corral the enormous influx of media that descended on Newtown, and set up a staging area for journalists to help keep them contained and deliver a unified, official message.

Lieut. J. Paul Vance, chief spokesman for the Connecticut State Police, conveyed messages and information to the press during Sandy Hook’s aftermath. One of his main objectives, Vance said, was to “quell the rumor mill.”

Vance told the audience he was deeply impressed with the conduct of reporters. “I said to them at one point very early, ‘Please, leave the families alone,’ and they got it. They truly got it.”

After the Boston Marathon bombings, the rumor mill ran out of control, with sometimes bizarre consequences.

Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist for NPR, often uses social media — he has nearly 93,000 Twitter followers — to piece together or debunk stories. But he told the audience at Columbia that it’s not always easy to make sense of the mountains of information and hearsay that grow up during such events.

Carvin described the combination of a breaking-news situation such as Sandy Hook or Boston and social media as like a “game of telephone run amok.”

“Things are speeding up faster and faster,” said Carvin. “But I like to argue that in certain cases, if you’re able to get your followers on social media to get used to it, you can actually exercise the right to slow down.”

Carvin said that as the events in Sandy Hook and Boston unfolded, his Twitter followers would sometimes “frantically” tweet questions about pieces of unsubstantiated information. His response: silence.

“Rather than me blathering on every single thing I knew, I’d say, ‘Let me get back to you,’ ” Carvin said. He’d then check with colleagues and see what the local affiliate was reporting before responding.

Close to home

For Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, last week’s bombings proved very personal.

Interviewing firefighters at Ladder 7, some of who are friends, Cullen found many had children who had known the youngest victim of the blasts, 8 year-old Martin Richard.

“You try to do your job, but really you’re reliving things with the first responders,” said Cullen. But he noted that for him, that means the memory of all the good people did after the bombings will outlive the act of violence to which they responded.

“Forces of goodness embarrass the forces of evil,” said Cullen.

For Leukhardt, whose daughter and stepson came with him to the symposium, being a force of goodness sometimes means reaching out to unlikely individuals.

In the crowd between panel discussions, I took the chance to tell Leukhardt and his daughter how sorry I was for their loss, and tears came to my eyes. Leukhardt’s daughter wrapped me in a bear hug as her father took a memorial photo of Lauren out of his pocket and gave it to me.

The photo of Lauren’s smiling face sat beside me on the table as I wrote this story. At the bottom of the photo is a simple message: “In her memory, please be a persuasive voice for peace on earth.”

On Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. ET, will air Google+ Hangouts with industry leaders who will talk about journalists’ coverage of Boston. You can visit this link Thursday morning to find out more. Read more

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Boston explosions a reminder of how breaking news reporting is changing

Terrible events such as yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon have always meant “all hands on deck” for news organizations, with staffers pulled off their regular beats to contribute.

But the endpoint of the newsgathering and reporting is no longer a front-page package of stories explaining — the best one can — what happened, why it happened and what might be next. Now, there is no endpoint — events are reported in real time, with stories in constant motion, and the front page is a snapshot of an organization’s reporting at the moment when the presses needed to roll.

Boston was a reminder of that, and a look at what’s changing in real-time journalism. Through Twitter and various live blogs, I found myself looking over my shoulder at the Boston Globe, the New York Times, Reuters and other news organizations, and was able to make some observations and draw some conclusions.

My first observation doesn’t speak to what’s changed in journalism, but to what’s remained the same. The Boston Globe’s impressive reporting was driven by having boots on the ground — quite literally, since the newspaper had reporters and photographers at the finish line very near the site of the two bombs.

That’s how John Tlumacki captured the image that seems likely to become the iconic photograph of this tragic day in Boston, and how reporters such as Billy Baker and Chad Finn contributed a wealth of detail — by turns horrifying and surreal — from the scene.

The tools have changed, with Twitter an instant printing press for bite-sized bits of news, but the skills — a keen eye, empathetic ear, and a good list of contacts — have not.

But these days there’s another layer to reporting such events. Besides boots on the ground, news organizations also need an eye in the sky — someone charged with gathering information, deciding what’s credible and what’s not, and presenting it to readers.

Such traffic cops have been part of covering breaking news for generations, but once their role was an internal one aimed at producing those front-page packages. Now, the role is external — and the assets they use can no longer be limited to their own news organizations. The roster of reporters (and those acting like them) for a breaking-news event is ever shifting and changing, bound not by whose ID tag someone wears but by where they are, what they see and what they know.

Other journalists are seeing and hearing things and tweeting them, and must be incorporated into what an organization knows and communicates to its readers. That’s also true of all the people once bundled together under the heading of “sources” — government officials, hospital spokespeople and others now release information directly to the public, without funneling it through the media. And so do people who are participants in an event or observers.

Take the tweets from Bruce Mendelsohn, a marketer who was attending a party just above the site of the first explosion. Mendelsohn is the kind of witness reporters hope to find but rarely do — a former Army medic with an eye for detail and the ability to assess spectators’ injuries and what might have caused them. A photo he took was picked up by the Associated Press, and news organizations quoted him — but only after they discovered his tweets, which were available to all.



(By the way, next time journalists are quick to dismiss citizen journalism, point them to Mendelsohn’s tweets and photograph. He was reporting on his own, and quite capably.)

The role of a news organization’s eye in the sky demands far more than just aggregating the work of others. It requires the ability to juggle all the parts of a developing story, continually account for new information, and quickly vet tips, photos and descriptions. In a situation such as the Boston Marathon, few bits of information will be able to be vetted the way news organizations would like. The eye in the sky will have to make those calls, relying on another old tool: the reporter’s gut instinct. (Though lessons like these will help.)

Which brings us to the most wrenching change for news organizations confronted by an event like Boston: News gathering and reporting — an intrinsically messy hodgepodge of verifying facts and debunking chatter — is now done in front of readers. Instead of waiting for a carefully crafted report on the news or a front page, readers are now in the “fog of war” with the participants and reporters and officials and everybody else.

Whether we like it or not, this isn’t going to change — given readers’ hunger for news on such days, news organizations can’t remain silent about reports until they’ve been verified with officials and subjected to the organization’s own system of scrutiny. The chaos of breaking news is no longer something out of which coverage arises — it’s the coverage itself.

One of the many difficulties with this is none of us — reporters, officials and readers alike — is used to it. Reporters want to be first but fear the consequences of being wrong. Frustrated officials seeking to figure out what’s going on may pass along a reporting mistake, seemingly verifying it and thereby amplifying it. Readers want information from the beginning of the reporting process but still hold news organizations to the same standards that governed the final product. All of this adds up to a profound change — one we’ve only begun to grapple with.

In a situation like this, the best way forward for news organizations is acceptance and transparency. We have to tell readers what we’re sure we know and how we know it, acknowledge and assess things that we’re hearing, and provide constant updates and cautions that what we think we know is changing rapidly. Establishing facts has value, of course — as does wise analysis. But so too does providing information, publicly asking questions (and providing a forum for answers) and debunking rumors. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer’s rules of a crisis are good advice here:


In time, all of us will become more accustomed to reporting in the fog of war, with the entire newsgathering process taking place in public. We will develop language, standards and procedures for such reporting, shaped in part by readers — who will in turn learn how to use them to assess and respond to our work. Those standards and procedures are already emerging. But there is much thinking and work still to be done — and the lessons of days like yesterday are part of that process.

Previously: Covering what comes next in the aftermath of the blasts | How journalists are covering, reacting to Boston Marathon explosions |, other sites drop paywalls following Boston Marathon explosions

Correction: This post originally misspelled Tlumacki’s last name. Read more


Confusing coverage in breaking news may be SOP, but pre-empting tweets is new

California manhunt subject Christopher Dorner may or may not be dead: Forensics investigators will look at the teeth and make chest X-rays of the charred corpse found in a rental cabin where police say the former Los Angeles police officer holed up and exchanged gunfire with cops.

That image perfectly encapsulates the gnarly reporting around last night’s shootout. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office asked reporters to stop tweeting in the event Dorner was monitoring Twitter (police made the same request of TV viewers). Candy Martin, who was surprised to see her rental cabin on television — told police it had “no cable, telephone or Internet service,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

KPCC didn’t comply with the request and posted some bewildered reaction from media outlets and consumers alike. “It’s not unusual, particularly in a police standoff, for police to ask television in particular to be very careful in their live coverage,” Poynter’s Al Tompkins told me in a phone call. “But this idea of Twitter coverage is a new wrinkle.” Read more


When news breaks, most Americans seek a second, trusted source for more info

When Americans first learn about a breaking news story, 83 percent seek out a second source to get more information, new research says.

Half of them turned to a different type of platform (i.e., heard the news on TV then went online to read more) for follow-up, and of the people who went online, 60 percent turned to a traditional news outlet like The New York Times, CNN or Fox News.

Traditional news outlets beat out Web-native sites like HuffPost, social media and search as the second online source to follow up on big news.
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NY photojournalist gets cameras back after arrest, but not press credentials

NPPA | The New York Times
Robert Stolarik’s cameras were confiscated when he was arrested on Aug. 4 while photographing police on a public street. He has them back now, but he still hasn’t received his press credentials. Stolarik met with NYPD’s Internal Affairs unit on Monday to discuss his complaint against the officers who beat and arrested him.

In an interview with the Times, NPPA lawyer Mickey Osterreicher says “the war on terrorism has somehow morphed into an assault on photography,” both by the press and the general public.

“Literally every day, someone is being arrested for doing nothing more than taking a photograph in a public place. It makes no sense to me. Photography is an expression of free speech,” Osterreicher says.

NYPD has issued guidelines telling officers not to interfere with the press, but Osterreicher said the problem persists.

I believe that the problem is it’s ingrained in the police culture. The idea of serve and protect has somehow changed, for some officers, to include protecting the public from being photographed.

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Cubs player learned about pending trade just an hour before reporter tweeted about it

Cubs President Theo Epstein weighed in Wednesday on the controversy leading up to the trade of popular pitcher Ryan Dempster, saying one factor in the nine-day drama was how quickly news spread through social media.

Early last week, Epstein worked out a deal to send Dempster to the Atlanta Braves. The news was leaked and reporter Mark Bowman reported that the deal was “confirmed.”

But Dempster hadn’t approved the trade, which players of his seniority level have the right to do. Dempster decided to hold out for a deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Braves decided not to wait.

The affair set off a firestorm among some fans and in the blogosphere, as some turned on Dempster for costing the Cubs valuable pitching prospect Randall Delgado. A week later, and just minutes before Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline, the Cubs sent Dempster to the Texas Rangers for two lesser prospects.

Up-to-the-second reporting via social media may have affected the outcomes for four teams.

Epstein, speaking to reporters Wednesday, said Dempster knew the terms of the trade for only an hour before Bowman tweeted about it.

After that, “the story leaked and with the nature of technology and social media these things obviously spread quickly like wildfire,” Epstein said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “So Ryan never got the opportunity for more than I’d say an hour to fully contemplate Atlanta with a deal actually in place.”

Epstein defended Dempster’s decision. However, he and Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer disputed the notion that Dempster had been “blindsided” last week.

By all accounts, Dempster didn’t have much time to consider the trade once the two teams had an agreement in place. But Cubs executives Epstein, and Hoyer in a radio interview, said Dempster knew for days that Atlanta was the most aggressive suitor. While Dempster wasn’t really against going to Atlanta, he wanted to wait until the “last possible second” to rule out the Dodgers, Hoyer said.

In a radio interview, Dempster essentially said that his inaction had been interpreted as action. His explanation shows just how mucked up the situation had become:

I didn’t turn down any trades. All I asked for was more time on one particular trade. I didn’t really get that time. It got leaked out that I said yes and then I said no. And even after I said no — I never officially said no — I said I needed time to think about it, and I have the right to that time. I know people want an answer overnight, but I’ve been traded twice in my career with no say and so to have a little bit of say and time to make a decision, that’s all I wanted.

It’s hard to say exactly how much the deadline-is-now nature of modern journalism changed the fortunes of four baseball teams last week. The initial report, limited to 140 characters, didn’t note that Dempster had not yet approved the deal — a key factor.

A few years ago, Dempster may have had more than an hour to contemplate a major life change — one that he was considering amid some difficult personal issues, including a divorce and a daughter with a rare developmental disorder. In fact, one wonders if the Braves would’ve given him more time to consider going to Atlanta if word of the trade hadn’t become so public, so fast.

The whole affair apparently even confused some of Dempster’s teammates. Fellow starting pitcher Paul Maholm — who, instead of Dempster, was traded by the Cubs to Atlanta — reportedly had some fun with Dempster in their final hours together in Chicago.

“I looked at him and said ‘Well you said no, I guess they wanted somebody,’” Maholm told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read more

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Details about Colorado shooter too important to tweet incrementally

My Poynter colleagues already have noted how ABC News and Breitbart rashly reported thinly-sourced information about James Holmes, the man accused of shooting up a Colorado movie theater Friday morning.

They should have held off reporting the supposed connections to the tea party or the Democratic Party until they had more than just a lead. In the same way, I think this was the wrong time for journalists to tweet their attempts to confirm those reports. In short, it was the wrong time for process journalism.

I use Edward Champion, managing editor of a culture site called Reluctant Habits, to illustrate a practice that did little to inform and had the potential to misinform.

You may remember Champion as the man who ferreted out examples of Jonah Lehrer recycling material. Friday morning, he was one of many people tracking down leads on the shooter. He tweeted:

When someone asked Champion why he was “already starting Tea Party association rumors,” Champion responded, “Not spreading rumors. Seeking corroboration. This is an investigation. Note the question marks.”

But some of those tweets seemed more insistent than truly questioning.

The difference is striking when compared to how he dealt with the equally false report that the shooter was a registered Democrat:

Champion also tweeted that he was looking into a possible connection between Holmes and a shooting club, a connection that he dispelled about 30 minutes later.

I believe he was simply trying to keep his 5,000 followers apprised on his efforts to confirm these connections.

But on Twitter, such disclaimers are easily separated from other tweets that suggest that there’s something to these initial reports.

About three hours after Champion posed his question on Twitter, his reporting led him to conclude that the shooter was not the same Holmes involved with the tea party.

Last year, after some journalists spread a hoax that CNN had suspended Piers Morgan, Reuters’ Felix Salmon wrote that they shouldn’t be embarrassed. Twitter, he wrote, is “more like a newsroom than a newspaper.”

That’s what Champion’s tweets were — the updates that a reporter would provide to an editor or the asides she’d offer to a colleague. It was process journalism, similar to how CNN and Fox News handled the Supreme Court ruling. At least Champion was doing it on Twitter, where people expect incremental, incomplete information.

Champion’s tweets let people in on the process, but they shed no new information on the story that people really wanted to learn more about: the shooting itself. In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, when you’re trying to track down important details like the background of the shooter, people don’t want to hear the drip-drip of leaving voice mails and Googling names. They want solid information that helps them make sense of what happened.

Friday morning, the things that Edward Champion, ABC News’ Brian Ross and Breitbart’s Joel Pollak said should’ve stayed in the actual newsroom. Read more


ABC News, Breitbart fall short in owning up to mistakes on Colorado theater shooter

During a major breaking news story like Friday’s mass killing at a film premiere in Colorado, journalists go hunting for any information they can find. Initially, there’s a big focus on the “who.”

The name of the gunman. The names of victims.

But ABC News’ Brian Ross overreached Friday morning, telling viewers — with little evidence — that shooter James Holmes may have connections to the tea party. His evidence: A “Jim Holmes” of Aurora, Colo., had posted something to the Colorado Tea Party website.

That was followed by an equally thin suggestion by Breitbart blogger Joel B. Pollak that the shooter could be a registered Democrat. That, too, turned out to be false.

The common denominator here — aside from a willingness to throw out unsubstantiated claims during a high-stakes, breaking news story — is that both outlets tried to chase down a fairly common name in the hopes of finding something revealing about the shooter.

Nail the “who,” and the “why” often will follow. Flub the who, and the why goes awry.

Inadequate efforts to correct

As with the mistakes made by CNN and Fox News with the Supreme Court’s health care verdict, the errors led to inadequate or nonexistent corrections.

ABC News’ first statement about the error attempted to deflect blame:

An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. Several other local residents with similar names were also contacted via social media by members of the public who mistook them for the suspect.

See, the other kids were doing it, too. ABC News seemed to realize this attempt at minimization, and lack of apology, was the wrong course. It issued an apology:

An earlier ABC News broadcast report suggested that a Jim Holmes of a Colorado Tea Party organization might be the suspect, but that report was incorrect. ABC News and Brian Ross apologize for the mistake, and for disseminating that information before it was properly vetted.

Over at Breitbart, there are only “updates,” no corrections. Here’s the current headline on the post:


The post itself maintains the original lead, which suggests that ABC News’ Ross was wrong and the shooter could be a registered Democrat. You have to scroll all the way to the bottom, to the final update posted two hours after the post first went up, to learn none of it is true.

Even then the website doesn’t admit error:

Newly-released information on the suspect’s birthdate (which, as indicated in our initial report, was a slight mismatch), combined with new details Breitbart News has obtained about the suspect’s likely addresses, together suggest that the suspect may, in fact, not have been registered to vote.

One disheartening conclusion from this and the Supreme Court mistake is that some news organizations are getting worse at breaking news verification and corrections, not better. Read more