Burriss: Does tech speed hurt accuracy?

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I was reading a technology column the other day, and it talked about ways of helping reporters gather news faster. The author made some suggestions for how software and hardware companies could help reporters, to “adapt to the new hyper-speed reality of news.”

Unfortunately, the author made a mistake often made by overly tech-centric non-journalists: news happens just as fast, or as slowly, as it always has. Bank robberies don’t happen any faster, city councils don’t meet any faster, and planes don’t crash any faster. They happen at the same speed they always have. Certainly the delivery is faster, but the news itself, we’ll, it is as fast or as slow as it has always been.

Now it’s absolutely true that technology helps us gather background information faster, and deliver it to audiences even faster: how many bank robberies have occurred in our city? Who is going to benefit from that rezoning application the city council approved? What is the safety record of the airline.

But, in fact, the basic story may not depend on the fastest news outlet, it may depend on the slowest. After all, gathering basic information about a breaking news story takes time, and much too often we have seen initial reports be wrong, distorted or misleading.

It takes time to sort through all of the initial confusion, and breaking stories are always confusing. And a database will probably not be useful. Eyewitnesses and on-scene experts are what count; not numbers in a column.

When it comes to news, I like to think of this, admittedly, strange linguistic equation: “slow” has the same number of letters as “good,” and “speed” has the same number of letters as “wrong.” Something to think about.

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Larry Burriss
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