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Hey News Media – Is Pre-Reporting Really Such a Good Idea?

October 12, 2011

News of the loss of Steve Jobs spread throughout the world like an avalanche. Ironically many people received the news on products Jobs created. Twitter in particular went into a frenzy with many media outlets reporting that an astonishing 10,000 tweets per second were circulating the world about his death.

The only problem is that this figure is completely false.

The rumour seems to have begun with The Sydney Morning Herald technology editor Asher Moses, who tweeted around 12pm on Thursday: “Sources telling me that passing of Steve Jobs will set a new Twitter and Facebook record.”

From there it built speed and rumour became fact and this fact remained unchecked.

Twitter later confirmed the actual figure was 6049 tweets a second – still an amazing number but far short of 10,000.

According to Andrew Reid, managing director of social media monitoring service Vizense, “To reach more than 10,000 tweets per second, per hour, would require more than 70 per cent of the entire active user base tweeting about the death of Steve Jobs at the same time. That’s highly unlikely.”

The old adage of “never let the facts get in the way of a good story” seems to be getting taken on a whole new level with the emergence of the latest trend in news: pre-reporting.

The desire to be ‘first with the news’ is reaching ludicrous proportions. In days of yore it went something like this; something happened, someone (usually the media) decided on it’s news value and reported on it, then disseminated the information. The speed at which this happens has shortened as technology has gotten better.

Now, however, traditional media outlets are trying to beat social media to the punch by reporting on news before it’s even happened. More and more stories are appearing, particularly on television and radio news, prefaced with ‘Person A is expected to… today’.

This trend is causing facts to be distorted (at best) and an increasing number of instances of the media creating the news, rather than reporting on it. The inherent danger is that even if the pre-reporting proves to be false, it’s rarely revisited and corrected because the news is busy pre-reporting something else.

PR professionals need to be particularly sensitive to this. Situations can be well managed, or spiral out of control rapidly, by being proactive in their communication with the media. If the news media wants to report on things before they happen, communicators need to ensure they at least have some verified facts to start with or else rumour will quickly become fact and precious few of the real facts are ever clarified.

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