I was reminded again this week why what we do as journalists is important, and why it’s important to do it the way we do.
As I re-read that sentence it occurs to me that it requires some serious explanation, so here goes.
We get flak sometimes, as we did earlier this week, for our reporting on breaking news coverage from people who think they know more than we do. They think this because they’ve heard from someone’s friend’s cousin on social media that they heard somewhere that….You get the idea. Official sources these are not. You may be free to post anywhere you like on the internet any rumour you’ve heard 10th hand, and it may even turn out by some miracle to be correct, but in the news business we do not report things we cannot confirm. This is especially important when someone may be harmed by what we put out there.
Such was the case earlier this week when a body was discovered by the Allenby Road bridge in Duncan. We initially posted a very basic story about there being a significant police presence in the area and that the road was closed. Yes, we too had already heard the rumours that a body had been found, but, and this is vital, neither the Coroner’s Service, nor the RCMP were ready to tell us that yet and we did not have a first-hand account. Thus we did not report about someone being dead until we had official confirmation, which came the next morning.
We’d also heard the immediate rampant rumours about who it was, which turned out to be entirely untrue. False. Fictitious. Erroneous.
There were many on our Facebook page that didn’t like this restraint and asked why we weren’t reporting the whole (according to the rumour mill) story.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and the adrenaline of a breaking story, but we have to be cautious, put on the brakes, and ask ourselves what we actually know. Sometimes if there is a particularly pernicious and widespread rumour we’ll address it, but especially in serious cases we stick to the facts.
There are plenty of people on social media who discuss and pass on and rehash speculation. As private citizens we’ve probably all done it at one time or another. But as journalists, that’s not our job. In doing our job properly we might seem to be behind the times to some, but it’s more important that we get it right. We need to be the place people can go to clear up the rumours and the speculation.
It may not be the sexiest job on the internet, but somebody has to do it.