Posted in Behind the News

The challenge of brevity in the digital age

, by John Daniszewski

News in the digital age comes in short -- often very short -- bursts, straight to our mobile phones, smart watches, tablets and computer screens.  Sometimes these short takes are all an audience will read, not the longer story that follows. That’s why we need to get them right.

The brevity creates new challenges for us not to be mere stenographers.

The AP’s Statement of News Values and Principles requires us to report the news quickly, accurately and honestly. It also requires us to apply our news and editorial judgment to material we pick up. 

Our standards on news releases say: “Under no circumstances can releases reach the wire in their original form; we can use information and quotes from releases, but we must check the material, augment it with information from other sources, and then write our own stories.” 

The principle applies as well to covering tweets that a person sends or sending news alerts or headlines off a politician or official’s statements on TV or in a live interview. These can be equivalent to press releases. 

AP standards remind us that we have a duty not to simply relay, channel or amplify such instant statements; we need to apply context and judgment -- especially if the politician is asserting something controversial, disputable or incorrect. Even in our news alerts, headlines and tweets about a public figure’s tweets, we need to show that we are not just re-transmitting the spin. In fact, if a public figure’s tweet contains falsehood and adds nothing of significant news value, we may opt not to report it all, just as we pass covering many people’s press releases on the merits. 

When we know a statement is factually inaccurate, or highly debatable, we need to say so in some way.

We always must be on guard against simply passing on information that is not factual, even in our shortest news alerts, headlines and tweets. Instead, we must work to include context or find a way to show that the information is disputed.