Featured Interactive Storytelling Journalism Live Web

The Live Web is Always Right, Until Proven Wrong

Fire in the Amsterdam Town Hall - Jan van de Heyden
Painting: Jan van de Heyden – inventor of the fire hose – Fire Amsterdam Town Hall 1690 (translated link)

Two major financial losses have we seen in the last two months. Not because of the credit crunch, but because everything in this digital world is connected.

On the web new information is true until proven false. This is something you might like, or not. It is not a choice, it’s the fact of a connected medium that gives everyone a voice. We have to find ways to work with it. And we are just starting to find out the effects of this dense and very well connected network that is continues searching for the next big thing… And the network is trigger happy.

About those losses
Ten billion dollar in total. Last month an old article about United Airlines re-appeared in Google News because of a date failure. News spread across the web in no time. Traders started selling shares, loss $1 billion.

Last week a wrong story about Steve Jobs having a hearth attack made it to CNN iReport. News spread across the web very fast and Apple stock plunged. Instant decrease in value: $9 billion.

Both stories started an online fire that could only be stopped by checking the story. But, when there is smoke in the air, the whole town is already alerted. You can’t hide it. All you can do is report facts as soon as possible.

In a dense societies, like the web, and cities in the seventeenth century. The high speed spreading of information is crucial. If there was a fire in your neighborhood. It didn’t really matter that much if it small or big, you would wanted to know about it. Since all houses were close to each other and stopping a fire was difficult. Alert first, check later.

The web is not paper
Reporting fragments of information is what the web is good at. We still use it as if it is a piece of paper. We publish hypertext, but we won’t alter it, like paper. We give web pages unique addresses, like paper. After all these years we still treat hypertext like paper.

Wikipedia doesn’t. This is what makes Wikipedia more an internet product instead of a print product. Wikipedia is alive, it uses fixed urls and the content changes all the time. Everything can be altered and deleted. Hypertext is alive. Wikipedia is – like the web – a continues and endless process.

Open Source Journalism
The live web poses not directly new problems for journalism, but it requires more speed and a different way of working. It will eventually require a different approach. Journalists will have to be live reporters. They don’t decide if it will be news or not. They will decide if something will stay news or not.

As a reporter you can’t ignore the smoke in your town. Everyone wants to know what’s going on and it’s the job of the journalist to figure this out, as fast as possible. And the best way to do this is by using the collective wisdom and make his or her knowledge and process public. The open source journalist will be a better informed journalist.

And about the truth?
We will see many more of these short-time information failures in the future and those will probably also lead to large financial losses. We have to find a way to live with it. The journalist that works on the web will be more active as a firefighter instead of a fire starter.

Featured Interactive Storytelling Journalism Live Web Notes

Making the web more live

CNN Breaking News
The web is becoming a more live medium, the medium itself isn’t changing it is how we publish to it. I think the ‘live web’ is the most exiting development since the rise of social networks. You write a Twitter notification on your mobile phone, post a picture to the web or stream a live video with Qik or Seesmic. Often recording is publishing.

When you write a blog or create a podcast your entry has context in itself. It has a start and it ends. Most postings on micro blogs don’t have context in the messages. The context is in the stream or in time. For example Twitter messages often make sense in your personal timeline or in the conversation within your personal network.

Twitter and Qik are just the first services. Realtime platform independent micro services, that distribute contextless fragments of information are here to stay.

This sense of a ‘live medium’ is something that is changing the web as it is and how we use it. It will change search, or at least sorting search results and it will change reporting news.

A service like Twitter makes news travel fast. This makes it the #1 breaking news source for a lot of people. Why? Because it is reporting as it is happening. It isn’t always right, but it is reporting, open for conversation and correcting itself. It is live coverage and it is a storytelling experience.

News on the web is presented like news on paper. This is good since text on the web is – apart from certain screen specific style rules – the same as on paper. An article is written, checked and published.

Spreading the news
These services like Twitter are making reporting news a more public process. For example if something happens the first people who notice are there when it happens. Uploading messages, pictures and video, to a personal community or group of friends.

With Twitter people start repeating (or retweeting) messages distributing the news among followers and informing a very large audience within minutes. This is the signaling part. It’s not about being a citizen journalist. It is about telling your friends what you are doing, or what you are seeing.

The signal reaches the audience at the same time it reaches the journalist. A journalist has to check the story, is it true? Should I publish about this or wait until it is checked? The reader is expecting that his favorite news website knows more about it and visits the website after hearing about the news. Often resulting in a bad user experience, since there is nothing on the news website about the subject.

What is the role of journalists and media in this? Should they directly report serious rumors? Should they check for more sources. I don’t know. It has to be somewhere in the middle I think. A situation where journalists are producing with updated versions.

I think CNN is giving this a very prominent place on the CNN website. Maybe because they are from television and reporting breaking news is what they are good at. They are using storytelling mechanisms on the website. Reporting what is happening right now, and directly updating it when the story turns out to be something different.

These are the breaking news messages CNN showed last week. I heard the news about Hillary ending her campaign through Twitter and CNN was one of the few news websites with the news on it.
CNN before
CNN message before

CNN after
CNN message after

Your thoughts
What are your thoughts about this? When should news be published on a web site and should we adapt the design of news sites to make space for a more storytelling ‘as-it-is-happening’ approach? Or does this make news websites vulnerable for misinforming the audience?

This blog post was published on the Online Journalism Blog