When I was researching case studies last week, I came across dozens of posts that had reposted information without linking to sources. In some cases, the accuracy of the data looked questionable. When we're talking about positive results, although the pat on the back may be unwarranted, it's not a huge deal.
Now that every person and company can get in the news, and make the news itself, we're faced with two challenges:
- standing out in the sheer tide of bits being shared as news in real time
- being unable to stop or correct inaccurate information once it starts spreading
Online news seems to spread regardless of its accuracy -- we've seen it with sloppy research data, in times of crisis when businesses are the most vulnerable, and because of the sheer desire to look good among your peers.
From source to publication
You have a source that either leaks or releases information via press release or interview, which then appear on publications that have had a direct contact with the source. The news is then picked up by online portals and some of the bigger online sites.
Today, traditional news organizations are not always the first to release news. And with the budget cuts and the pressure to hit the trigger on a story, there may not be enough vetting or fact checking. I've been misquoted enough times to know that even when there is a direct contact, there can still be a disconnect.
The farther the news from its initial source(s), the more difficult the vetting due to lack of attribution during dissemination.
This is where the news is welcome and colored by opinion, secondary stories, and debate. Who doesn't remember the story of the boy in the balloon last October? Run a search and you come up with more than 5MM results. It turned out that the boy was never in the balloon.
It was a hoax, you wouldn't have known that on Twitter.
There is a second mechanism in how news spreads online and that is the feedback loop originating from social networks and feeding back into news organizations.
The idea is for news outlets to attract readership and part of that is writing about what people are interested in reading -- because they're talking about it.
Some of the questions I ask myself when I read news online are:
- can I trust this source?
- does the information include links to facts and data?
- is the site reputable for due diligence?
- what if I write about this and it turns out it's not true?
Do you check your sources, or do you just go ahead and report what you read adding your opinion? Have you ever had to retract or modify a post? Do you worry that something you published may cost someone his job or damage a company's reputation?