In the wake of scandal and bad press, the BBC has unveiled a new set of editorial guidelines – set to take effect July 25 – stressing accuracy over speed. (Read the BBC reporting on the BBC here. AP story here.)
The big news concerns a time delay editors will use during particularly traumatic video feeds, but the subplot here is that BBC stories in general – on the web and on TV – will now be held to a new level of rigorous ethical standards. Or, as the new code reads, reporting “must be clearly editorially justified.” Nice thinking, but as blogs continue to redefine the pace of news, can a slow-and-steady model work for a major news outlet?
In journalism, getting the truth and getting the “scoop” generally come hand in hand. After all, the scoop isn’t much of a scoop if it turns out there’s nothing behind it…
Nowadays though, blogs (and online chat rooms, Web forums, etc) are bringing information directly to readers without editorial oversight, while at the same time adding a layer to the newsmaking process. This is good news for the BBC. Here’s why:
Your average journalist has editors and formal ethics guidelines to follow. Get a fact wrong, you lose your job and your reputation is wrecked. But the blogosphere offers some nebulous turf. The informality and speed (that word again) of information in the online medium presents a breeding ground for rumor, speculation and flimsy reporting. I’m not just referring to anonymous posts and untraceable speculation on message boards; plenty of well-known bloggers and reporters muck around in the genre of shadow news (ahem, The Drudge Report ). But the Internet is a harsh climate for lies. Lie on the Web and sure, people will listen. Fortunately, they’ll be listening for the ring of truth. (Look no further than what happened to Sean-Paul Kelley, a blogger plagiarizing news about the Iraq War.) One simple formula: the more eyes reading it, the more accurate a story tends to become.
The result is that reporters at the BBC, and those at any traditional news source, are in a position to cherry-pick news that has already filtered through the Internet. Granted, if they wait too long other networks or papers will move on the story, but usually they don’t have to wait. By the time a story percolates to the surface (through blogdex, say) many online readers have already vetted the source and commented on its accuracy. At that point – a few Web searches, some well-aimed phone calls – and the story is groomed and sanitized for a mass media outlet, where it will reach most people for the first time.
Slow and steady? It should work for the BBC. The slower philosophy already fits the media giant just fine: the new guidelines, though seemingly of utmost significance, won’t actually take effect for a month.