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Beware the Rush to Report

Beware the Rush to Report

While the internet has been a boon to communication and news, with its instant reporting, it also has been a bane to the same because of the same.

News has not become more abundant today than it was two decades ago.  Our access to that news has simply changed.  And thus, the landscape of news media has changed with it.

Twitter, just to pull a name out of the air, has forced media outlets (from journalists to commentators to propagandists) to be quick with their delivery.  Very quick.  If something happens at 12 Noon, if you report on it by 12:03 PM, you are very far behind the time.

For some reason, we have equated “instant” news with “accurate,” “well thought out,” or — worse — “expert.” And this is a dangerous trend.

Consider what news we’ve heard just recently.  Long-range missile silos that turned out not to be long-range.  ICBMs that weren’t ICBMs, and targets that weren’t intended targets at all.  All these sensationalist headlines made for great reading, and certainly many hits to Twitter and embedded advertisements.  Never mind that none of it was accurate.

I’m not going to accuse these purveyors of misinformation as deliberately making this stuff up.  From what I’ve read, all this was born from sincere and earnest research.  It was just wrong.  And I’m not going to sit on my high horse and righteously declare that I’m not guilty of wanting to hit the Send button as quickly as possible, either.

The problem is, the public relies on those who claim to be experts to know what they are talking about.  This doesn’t mean that Average Joe can’t research and decide for himself.  What it does mean is that no one can know everything and no one has the time to be knowledgeable on every single important subject out there.  I rely on the weatherman to tell me the week’s weather.  Does this mean I am too stupid to figure it out myself?  No, it means I have other stuff to do, and I would like to rely on an expert to do this work for me.  Same reason I don’t fix my own car.  (In that particular case, I am too stupid to figure it out.)

So those who claim an expertise (whether on a subject or reporting a subject) are obligated to make sure they report accurately.  And this rush to publish makes people skip that important last word: “accurately.”

I admit that I was particularly angry regarding the above subjects I mentioned (the missile site, ICBM, etc.) because nuclear attack is on the forefront of a lot of peoples’ minds these days.  And these headlines just fanned flames that didn’t need to be fanned.

Yes, inaccurate articles have advantages.  When it comes to intel, you can actually be wrong and still be considered an expert.  I have recently been acquainted with the phrase “failing up.”  If you look like you know what you are doing, you’ll still be considered an expert despite frightening the public for no reason.

Of course, there is the danger of the opposite.  Be too careful, and you hold back vital information.  If North Korea does finally develop a workable, accurate, and dependable ICBM, should that fact be held back until we’re sure?  Really sure?  Really, really sure?  Of course not.  But then, we shouldn’t be making headlines because our napkin maths seems to work out, either.

A discerning public must be careful with headlines that come out micro-seconds after the fact.  More likely than not, the author is looking for more than accuracy.

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About

Thomas Lonely Wolf is the Director of The DEFCON Warning System