Blogs » Your Advocate: an editor's blog » When does a rumor/Tweet/blog become news?


In the digital age, anyone can be a publisher, or so the thinking goes.

That's wonderful in many respects because it gives more people more ways to have their voices heard. It's also easier than ever for people to contact the newspaper with story tips, photos and other contributions.

Of course, a new tool inevitably presents new challenges, too. That's why the Associated Press Managing Editors' credibility project is looking at various aspects to verification in the digital age. How do journalists verify news in a 24/7 world? How do news organizations protect and enhance their credibility while chasing down reader tips in a way that's more transparent than ever before?

A few recent articles highlight the issue:

-- Anatomy of a Twitter rumor: When a story’s too juicy not to retweet: This article details how news organizations were sucked into retweeting a bogus claim that a CNN talk show host was suspended for possible phone hacking. The original Tweet was an intentional effort to mislead people -- and it worked all too well.

-- Retweeting rumors and the reality of news as a process: This is another article on the CNN ruse and on a Steve Jobs rumor.

-- How to verify – and when to publish – news accounts posted on social media: This piece recounts the many citizen reports of a shooting into a crowd in Philadelphia. Hundreds of Tweets reported this shooting. The catch? It didn't happen.

The Philadelphia non-shooting is a good example. How should news organizations respond when many people are reporting something has happened? Should they share these reports but note that the information is unverified? If they do even that, though, aren't they in some way spreading the rumor?

Or, do you think it's OK as long as the news organization states the information it's sharing is unverified and corrects or updates the report as soon as possible?

At the Advocate, we routinely have people share news tips, complaints and concerns on our website or on our Facebook page. In days gone by, people would call in or stop by with these unverified tips, and we'd have time to fully check them out before they were shared with the public. With the advent of social media, though, the public might know about a tip before we've even started any reporting.

For the Advocate's part of the APME project, we propose using an online survey to ask our readers how they would like us to handle these situations. What would you say are the key questions to ask? To give you ideas, here's another APME group's survey on the same topic: "As we change, we could use your input". You're welcome to take the survey linked there, too.

After the survey, we plan to have a training session for interested community members on the best ways to share their letters to the editor, community news, photos, blogs, comments, etc., with the Advocate.

We'll provide soon more details about this community session. The working title for it: Be your own Advocate. Even -- or perhaps more than ever -- in the digital age, we continue to work hand in hand with you.