Media Coverage of the Tucson Shootings

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ASU journalism professor Tim McGuire provides his assessment of how traditional and online media performed in covering the tragic events in Tucson.

Ted Simons: Within hours of the Tucson shootings, the story was being covered almost non-stop by traditional and on-line media outlets. As is often the case with breaking news, some of the initial information was incorrect. Here to talk about how different types of media covered the shootings is ASU journalism professor Tim McGuire. Tim, always a pleasure. Good to see you.

Tim McGuire: Good to see you again.

Ted Simons: Let me start with an anecdote. Yesterday I came into my office and someone comes in and says he's angry with the media, he said he's angry with the misinformation of covering the story, angry with the speculation, just generally angry with the media. What do you make of that?

Tim McGuire: First thing I would of asked him is, what is the media? That's one of our real challenges today is, what is the media? Is media social media, Twitter, Facebook? Is it CNN and NPR? Is it "The Arizona Republic"? What is the media? You've really got to be very specific, because if I'm giving a grade, I have to grade all of those individually.

Ted Simons: Well, without going all of them individually, let's cluster a few here. Give us a grade. Let's start with things like traditional media, newspapers and such.

Tim McGuire: I thought "The Arizona Republic" did a heck of a job, but they had an advantage. They only came out and they published about 1:00 at night. They had all day to sort through all sorts of rumor and innuendo and nail down fact. And as a result, they were able to produce a really fine report that was by in large trustworthy, it wasn't guessing it wasn't yakking. I thought the radio and broadcast outlets were in a tough spot. That story was breaking during the day. They didn't have a lot of information and yet somebody said talk. And when you have to talk without much to say, you're bound to say something a little silly, a little inaccurate. You're going to get bulletins that are going to come fast and furious. Certainly NPR, CNN, a couple of the others were wrong on the death of Congresswoman Giffords, thank god. They were not following all the principles they knew they should have followed because they were so intent on speed.

Ted Simons: Okay. One of the reasons they're intent on speed is the rise of social media. How did social media do this weekend?

Tim McGuire: In my view social media was following big media. Everything -- I follow Twitter, I'm on Twitter and I was on Twitter all day Saturday, and they were reporting what NPR and CNN were doing. A lot of people want to delay this at the feet of social media,that they got it wrong, they were reporting what big media was doing. I didn't see social media as the problem this weekend at all.

Ted Simons: You have talked about and written about slow news and the idea that newspapers, even in this environment, might have an advantage because they get to slow things down. Talk to us about that.

Tim McGuire: Well, it's a concept developed by my colleague here at the Cronkite School, Dan Gilmore. In this era of instantaneous information, he advocates and I agree with him that we need to get facts quickly and slow on speculation and analysis. We have to make accuracy our absolute bedrock and slow everything down. And I do think that this weekend the republic had a real advantage because they were the slow news operation.

Ted Simons: When, though, does slow news become too slow, especially in this environment?

Tim McGuire: Well, certainly we demand instantaneous information. There's no question that 11:30, quarter to 12:00 on Saturday I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to know what happened down there. Well, people didn't know yet, and we have to have some patience. The fact is, 10, 15, 20 years ago when I was in the newsroom, we used to cover major stories all the time, and I remember distinctly how a story would break midday, we'd be operating on some assumptions but 5:30, 6:00, you find out many of those assumptions were wrong. We had the time to fix them, to get them right. Today we don't have that.

Ted Simons: We also don't have filters for a lot of the social media, whether it's Twitter, especially Twitter because it's just so quick. Facebook as well. On-line blogging, these sorts of things, live blogging during events. Are we just evolving toward that or have we lost those filters forever?

Tim McGuire: Some have. I mean, certainly the newspapers, the one place that's kept many of those filters, I listen to some radio and TV the other day that didn't have many filters at all. Certainly as my wife says, the only filter between you and tweeting is your thought. That's not much of a filter. So yeah, some people -- I saw some really ill-advised statements on Twitter on Saturday. You're right, the lack of filters is changing that. One of the things we've got to do since we don't have built-in filters is maybe we all have to count to 10 a little bit more than we have been.

Ted Simons: Except that, again, if you count to 10 too slowly or by the time you get to 9, you're already being laughed by folks who are getting more attention.

Tim McGuire: Does that matter? That's the real question.

Ted Simons: Here's another question --

Tim McGuire: We're so focused on speed and I think what we're learning is that credibility is far more important. What's your value? If your value is speed, then you go flat out and you let it fall where it might. If credibility is your goal, well, that says I'm okay with being 20th because I'm going to make sure I have it right. ABC -- I did not watch ABC but they're being quite smug about the fact that they had it right through the day. They held off because they didn't meet their fundamental reporting standards. Every good journalist knows what those standards are. What we're finding out now is NPR and CNN kind of blew them off on Saturday.

Ted Simons: That brings my last question here regarding getting it first. Obviously in the old days with four newspapers in the same town and those sorts of things with deadlines, getting it first was a big deal because you got it first and you were the only one who got it. In this age where if you get it first and I get it 16th, the difference could be five seconds or ten seconds. Is getting it first still crucial in the news business?

Tim McGuire: What's my brand? Is my brand that I'm going to be first or is my brand you can trust me? And I think that's a choice many people have to make. Right now one of the reasons we're talking is not very many people are saying my brand is you can trust me.

Ted Simons: All right. Tim, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Tim McGuire:ASU journalism professor;

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