Case Study 7.1: How much can the media rely on citizen accounts?

22 Mar

Both BBC News and RTE News take different approaches to reporting breaking news. When reporting on the grenade attack in Belgium, the differences were highlighted. BBC News tweeted more to readers to update them on the event, including a tweet asking witnesses of the attack to send in their comments. They also had an information sheet where people in Liege who witnessed the attacks could submit their experiences, pictures and videos. Their reporting for this event was much more interactive and relied heavily on their readers for input and information. The story BBC published contained second-hand accounts. For instance, the story contained facts attributed to witnesses, described images that were shown on television, and gave accounts from a journalist at another newspaper.

RTE News, on the other hand, only had one tweet regarding the event. The RTE news did not rely on information from their readers and did not ask for readers to contribute. The RTE story contained statements that were attributed to police. Their approach to reporting on the event was much more mainstream and traditional.

While the BBC is innovative in their approach to try and include their readers in reporting on the event, their actions do raise some issues. For instance, how trust worthy are the accounts readers are submitting? How can the BBC be sure the information is reliable and accurate? What is preventing readers from providing false information to the publication? As we have seen with the story about Jimmy’s world, people can easily fabricate things and pass them off as fact. And in instances like the story where the eagle snatched the dog, how can we be sure the event actually happened that way? If only the one person was there reporting, it can be hard to trust their account.

Sure, it is great for publications to be able to rely on readers for help on reporting a story, but caution must be taken. As long as the publication remains skeptical and checks the information they use, the arrangement should work out well. As a publication, they should still be sending their own reporters to the scene. Some citizens may submit things that their own reporters did not get, but their reporters should be able to confirm certain basic facts. Checks such as these are necessary to protect the publication. This kind of interactive reporting is a nice way to get readers more involved. In the end, though, it is important to remember the paper is responsible for what it publishes, not the citizen contributors. As long a publications like the BBC keep a skeptical mindset when using this reporting approach, all should be fine.

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One Response to “Case Study 7.1: How much can the media rely on citizen accounts?”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers March 22, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    Excellent analysis. Just what I was looking for

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