November 1, 2013

Today’s shooting at the Los Angeles airport is another reminder that covering breaking news can be fraught with opportunities to get it wrong.

A fake tweet picked up by media outlets in the heat of the shooting coverage is an example.

Here is a list of resources for covering shootings and, once the rush is over, some training suggestions to consider that can help newsrooms develop the best practices for shooting stories and breaking news in general:



Poynter’s media ethicist Kelly McBride added the following tips:

  • Stay away from anonymous sources.
  • Attribute all your information because if it turns out to be wrong, people will be mad at your source, not you. For example, use the names provided in police reports and attribute the information to them. Add more context if you think viewers need it.
  • Be very cautious if you listen to police scanners.

Poynter’s broadcast expert Al Tompkins said he used Geofeedia, a tool that searches social media based on location, as the story unfolded. Using it, he was able to read tweets and Tumblr posts from people at Terminal 3 of LAX. (NewsU has an upcoming tutorial on Geofeedia.)

Tompkins first saw reports that the shooter might be a Transportation Security Administration employee on the Los Angeles Times’ live blog. (The report remained unconfirmed as of 4 p.m. ET.)

In previous stories, Poynter has written about errors that have occurred in the coverage of the Navy Yard shooting, Boston Marathon bombings and Sandy Hook shootings. Craig Silverman’s Regret the Error column also sheds light on how to issue corrections, especially for breaking news. These can be helpful in understanding mistakes that can happen in covering breaking news.

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