This morning, as the terrifying and tragic events (prayers for them) at Franklin Regional High School unfolded, my Twitter feed shit the bed.
It didn’t just shit the bed, it shit the bed, puked in it, then left a horse head in it before lighting the bed on fire.
If my Twitter feed this morning was an image, it would have been this:
If it was a gif, it would have been this:
Events unfolded as every local media outlet began crawling over each other, pushing each other to be first on the scene. First with details. First with pictures.
Each minute ticked by with my feed filling up with dozens and dozens of tweets.
Marty Griffin hashtagged all of his tweets about the tragedy with #getmarty.
One reporter hashtagged his with #schoolshooting
“I’m hearing …”
“We’ve heard …”
“Sources say …”
5, 10, 6, 14, 20. (Aren’t these the Lost numbers?)
Four are life-threatening.
Seven are life-threatening.
None are life-threatening.
“We’re hearing bullying is a factor…”
Outside during a fire drill.
Inside after someone pulled a fire alarm.
All being taken to Forbes.
Five being taken to Children’s.
All being taken to six different hospitals.
Principal tackled suspect.
Vice-principal tackled suspect.
Assistant principal tackled suspect.
Reporters retweeting colleagues retweeting other colleagues. Sports and weather reporters tweeting details. Not one single tweet mentioning a source.
MADNESS. Complete and utter clusterfucky online madness that trickled down to on-air madness.
Social media is newish, but it’s not so new that local media outlets shouldn’t have a plan in place for handling developing news like this. The exact same way they have a plan in place for ON-AIR and IN-PRINT developing news stories.
Media folks who want to defend this morning’s mess, you must ask yourselves this question: If this is not okay in the live studio, why is it okay online?
Does your station allow 17 reporters and three anchors to crowd the floor of the live set and start shouting over each other and into the camera like desperate stockbrokers on the trading floor their version of the facts as they’re hearing them? “I’m hearing six! Over to weather! Well, I’m hearing five over here at weather! Over to sports! We’re hearing 10 over at sports! Traffic? My Facebook friend’s mother’s cousin’s sisterwife says 20 but my brother’s concubine says 19! And that guy behind the camera is hearing 4! Wait! Wait! –”
No. They don’t allow that. They manage the information as it comes in and filter it down before allowing the anchor to read it — and even that allows misinformation to fall through the cracks. But they attempt to manage the information.
It seems, however, that they believe social media means no rules, so you’ve got two dozen Twitter-verified reporters from WPXI tweeting and retweeting and 10 from WTAE and 11 from KDKA and add in the radio folks who are tweeting what they’re hearing from the TV folks, and add in the newspaper folks, and the producers and the cameramen and the editors, and the people working in the business offices, and I’m telling you guys, you guys running the media, this is broken.
This is so so broken.
Station managers figure they don’t control social media. Hands off. Everyone out for themselves, even if we’ve made sure you’ve got the blue checkmark next to your name verifying that you’re our representative. Tweet what you find … even if it’s unverified. Even if your source is the lunch lady’s third cousin. Even if you’re just retweeting your colleague who mistakenly hashtagged this story as a school shooting. Even if you’re retweeting your colleague who is claiming bullying is involved while not really knowing if bullying is involved. Even if you’re retweeting your colleague who says 20 were stabbed when 20 were INJURED. We can’t know who everyone is following, and everyone is not following the same two reporters, so we’ll just let every single damn one of you tweet anything you can get your hands on and we’ll feed that straight to the anchors and we’ll let them just run with that shit, amen.
I’m getting a little punchy, yes. I’m sorry. But I haven’t been writing my shit for here for nine years to make friends. Hell, I’m an introvert; friends are exhausting.
I’m aware it was worse for people like me who follow multiple reporters from multiple outlets (though I went on a nice unfollow spree this morning, as I should have done after the local media basically tweeted a play-by-play on how the McCandless mother drowned her sons), but I’m guessing that even those of you who only follow a few saw exactly what I’m talking about. Insane, intense retweeting. “Follow this person at our station for the facts! No! Follow this person! We realize he’s the sports reporter, but follow him too! And this guy, he’s the producer of a two-hour block of the news, but follow him for ‘facts!’”
No. No no no no no.
This is not how it needs to work and it’s not helping the story, the situation, or the station/paper/outlet. It’s hurting all of those things, even the on-air reporting.
I’m not here to just complain, I’m here to offer a solution to fix this mess because guess what? It can be fixed.
It can be fixed with three words: MANAGE. THE. MESSAGE.
You’re running WPXI? A major breaking news story happens? You get all your best reporters out there on foot and on the phone and on the web to collect information and do their jobs. And you pick one, maybe two of them to be the official tweeter of this particular story, or you have your official verified main account do it. Any other employee on Twitter will then tweet only ONE THING regarding this story: “We’re on top of this story. Follow @name and @name for the official details.” And they will RT ONLY that account or accounts.
Then they shut the hell up and do their jobs and if they’re assigned to this story, they feed their info and their sources to those two people who are now responsible for determining what will be reported on the official social media account.
Manage the message.
You do not allow TWO DOZEN REPORTERS WHO ARE YOUR OFFICIAL BLUE-CHECK-MARKED REPRESENTATIVES TO RUN LIKE STAMPEDING WILDEBEESTS ALL OVER TWITTER GOING FULL-ON TOURETTE’S, SHOUTING MISINFORMATION AT US UNTIL WE SLAM THE UNFOLLOW BUTTON WITH THE FORCE OF THOR’S HAMMER.
Managing the message would increase your followers, you know why? Because you’re not destroying us viewers and readers and listeners with information that may not even be correct. You’re not having reporters crawling all over each other in the name of FIRST! You’re not having mass unfollowings because we the people are fed up with you the breaking news media.
What you end up with are trusting followers who know you’re going to funnel the raw information in some fashion. That you’re going to manage the information put out there by your employees. You’re virtually pulling everyone off the set and leaving your two trusted anchors to talk with the public. You’re Peter Jennings-ing a Jerry Springer fiasco.
You end up with reporters, no longer obsessed with first!, putting away Twitter and working to get the best possible information from the best possible sources so that they can feed you that CORRECT information and get rewarded.
So instead of the virtual shouting match you’ve allowed your reporters to devolve into … instead of all of us unfollowing all of you for the 4! 3! 6! 20! 10! nonsense, you end up with one account that tweets this and reports this on the news: ”Our reporter @name has confirmed with [source] that the number of injured currently stands at [number].”
“Our reporter @name2 has confirmed with [source] that the number of injured has risen to [number.]”
“Our reporter @name3 has confirmed with [source] that the injured are being transported to [number] hospitals.”
Gold star and endless RTs and follows and respect for you.
Unfollows with great Thor-like gusto for everyone else.