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New technologies changing journalism

By Sherry Tompkins

The world is changing – – that part isn’t news, but the way in which it’s changing often is.

The way in which each generation takes in information is evolving and the process of reporting that information is evolving along with it. Today, speed is everything. The public wants to know, and they want to know now.

In journalism, this often creates some logistical dilemmas. One such dilemma is that speed removes the buffer of time. Time to review facts, time to decide which aspects are the most important, time to evaluate ethical decisions, time to pare down the subject to its bare bones, what the public wants to know, the truth.

For many years, the news has been disseminated in the past tense.  Although the very recent past tense, the past just the same.

Today with the use of social media, we find ourselves reporting news as it happens, in real time.

Our society has incorporated ‘virtual experiences’ into every facet of our lives and the news is no exception.

In the instance of high-profile court cases, when the public has a high degree of interest in what is happening, information must be passed along as if the reader was sitting in the courtroom themselves.

Enter social media and a new twist on reporting.

Bruce Urquhart, editor of the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, the hometown of the current Tori Stafford murder case, believes that social media is a valuable tool for both readers and journalists.

“It does have an effect. They’re wonderful tools,” said Urquhart, who is a Loyalist College graduate in print and online journalism.

“It’s a great way to discover stories, find sources, to get other content that we may not be able to get.

“In this particular instance, it’s a little bit different, we’re just funneling information.  It definitely does have an impact on our readership.”

Urquhart is referring to the reporting of graphic details from the trial of Michael Rafferty, who is being tried for the sexual assault and murder of eight-year-old Stafford, a Woodstock resident.

Urquhart had a plan ready to handle what many would consider extremely disturbing facts contained in the court proceedings.

“If the details become too graphic we’ll stop the direct tweets and send people to the direct news feed on our website.”

This provides the buffer needed to allow the public to decide just how much detail they are interested in hearing, he said. On the direct news feed the readers can continue their virtual courtroom experience.

Urquhart is adamant that the Woodstock Sentinel-Review is first and foremost a news service.

“We’re going to be compassionate but we’re not going to censor.”

Nathan Smith, news director at AM980 in London, has adopted a similar approach.

AM980 has a regular Twitter feed, with approximately 8,300 followers. On this feed, readers receive regular news updates. These updates would be written, not with censorship, but consideration for the fact that not all of those 8,300 readers have a desire to hear every graphic detail. Once again, due to the sensitivity of this particular case, a separate Twitter feed was set up to accommodate those who were interested in the whole courtroom experience, featuring everything they would hear if they were there themselves. Approximately 1,500 readers have opted in to the optional feed.

“Our decision is that we will censor nothing on that dedicated Twitter feed,” said Smith.

He describes this approach as an opt-in way of reporting. People can choose to hear the summary, or go to a different site for the details.

“It’s a bit of a relief to not have to choose what’s in and what’s out,” said Smith.