How to publish credible information online while news is breaking

In the aftermath of mistakes made while covering the shootings in Arizona, media organizations may re-examine their practices and policies for ensuring accuracy. Does your news org have updated guidelines, standards or policies for making decisions during breaking news? A 2009 study by the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) found that many newsrooms have standards for their print reports, but few policies address digital delivery.

Sioux City Journal Editor Mitch Pugh led an APME Online Journalism Credibility Project that explored issues in publishing breaking news online. Here are some of the questions he encourages every newsroom to ask before making information public.

Ethics questions

  • “Official” information vs. independent reporting: When do you go with either?
  • Scanner traffic: Do you report what you hear on a scanner?
  • When do you name someone? How do you source the name? Do you name them before “official” sources have released the name(s) and, if so, under what circumstances? Does it matter if the person is a juvenile?
  • What kind of video/photos are appropriate in a breaking news setting? How do you handle juveniles, crime victims and others in those media?
  • What are the expectations for how we will treat juveniles involved in breaking news, especially in the age of Google?
  • How do we handle corrections to breaking news or changing information in breaking news reports? How prominently do we correct and in what manner? Do you correct if information is simply changing? What’s the threshold?

Credibility questions

  • How quickly do you report information that may change?
  • How transparent/explicit should you be with readers that a story is “developing”?
  • What kinds of sources are credible in a breaking news setting? Is that different than reporting for print? What do readers think?
  • What does accuracy mean in a breaking news setting? Is it what you know to be true now?
  • Does being first have an impact on your credibility? Do readers find you more credible if you are first or is being “right” more important?

Social media and digital delivery questions

  • What do readers think of reporting what others are reporting? How does this apply to re-tweeting?
  • What expectations do readers have for crowdsourcing? How credible is the information gathered?
  • How credible is user-submitted breaking news, especially photos and video? What are the expectations or rules?
  • Is information gathered from social media sites about individuals or groups considered credible and/or relevant?

This material was drawn from the NewsU Webinar, "Ethics and Credibility of Breaking News Online," where you can learn more about how to develop and refine your news organization's guidelines. It's part of a Webinar series about online credibility in partnership with APME.

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    Vicki Krueger

    Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current position as marketing communications manager.


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