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Andy Carvin

When Breaking News Goes Wrong

Andy Carvin, from First Look Media, talked about what happens when the media gets breaking news wrong.

Andy Carvin, ex-NPR and now one of the first employees of the Pierre Omidyar-backed First Look Media has been collecting tweets and news stories, trying to track who tweeted what and then broadcast a fair reflection of what’s going on. Andy illustrated his talk with three examples:


1) Gabrielle Gifford’s attempted murder:


NPR had a police-source confirming her death, they checked with her office who confirmed it - they tweeted it and the word then followed. Unfortunately they were wrong (and therefore so was everyone else). The mistake was driven by the police source. He turned out to be the source for the Office’s spokesman too, so what NPR thought was two sources was actually just one.



2) Sandy hook massacre:


Like many shootings there was very little information on this story, but there was a huge desire for “news” to fulfil the demands of the news cycle. As news started to filter through Andy was using his own Twitter to reinforce that it was still early and not everything would be true. The demands for news means more demand on the police to explain what’s happened – usually at a point when they don’t know themselves. This pushed them to reveal a name – Ryan Lanza – as the likely shooter. News and social media went into overdrive, running it as truth. That was until they confirmed that it was actually his brother.


3) Boston bombing:


It’s not always broadcast that causes the problems – the web can have issues too. Social sites Reddit and 4Chan started crowd-sourcing analysis of the Boston bombing photos, trying to triangulate the bombers. This resulted in many accusations, dragging names through the mud with little actual success.


Since then, however Reddit has evolved to better cover big stories, with users verifying the information. Great examples include their current work on the Ukranian conflict:


Andy’s view was that three things cause these problems:

  1. Misreporting that once wouldn't have seen the light of day is now available via social media
  2. The 24/7 news cycle makes it worse – no dead air allowed!
  3. Broadcasters are more responsive to their own platforms, not addressing rumours that may spread elsewhere online


How to fix it? Andy suggested that traditional media should take the lead and evolve how they report:

  • It’s better to be right than first
  • A need to provide more context: “This is what we know and what we don’t know – and here’s how we’re sourcing it”
  • More online communities are trying harder to get it right and broadcasters should encourage staff to participate in these communities, rather than just report them
  • Stopping the spread of rumours should be as strong a journalistic value as reporting confirmed information

Andy Carvin interviewed by Trevor Dann, Radiodays Europe:

Here is an audio extract from Andy Carvin`s session: