Speed vs. accuracy: Relying on official sources

Breaking news requires both speed and accuracy in assembling and disseminating facts.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WTSP) – When a major incident occurs, news media rely on official sources for important information as the situation unfolds. It’s a process that’s become increasingly complicated in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, which is why a working relationship between public safety agencies and the press is so important.

When dealing with civilian tips, a general rule of thumb is have information confirmed from two independent sources before reporting it. But journalists will often run with information from a single source if it comes from an official capacity like a police department or sheriff's office spokesperson.

“People see things differently. You and I may see the same incident, you may describe it differently than I will, you may see things in a different fashion than I do, therefore the information will be a bit skewed,” said St. Petersburg Police Public Information Officer Rick Shaw. “You may have five, six, seven, eight different people calling in, again, they may be looking at the same incident but they’re describing it differently to the call-takers here at the police department, and when they describe it differently you’re getting different facts.”

“I don’t want to put out erroneous information, I want to put out accurate information, and time will help us get that accurate information,” added Shaw. “If we had multiple agencies responding to a particular incident or a series of incidents we would then need to establish some type of command center where we got a spokesperson from each agency together because we want to have one voice. We want to make sure that the information we’re putting out to the public is accurate, reliable and truthful.”

And in addition to dealing with the press, Shaw says social media provides an entirely new set of challenges when trying get accurate information out to the public.

“Everybody gets on their phones and they get on Twitter or they get on Facebook and they start reporting things,” said Shaw. “And what they perceive as fact, may not be actual fact.”


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