Like others, we’ve been glued to our screens since news that Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona. We read, we refresh our browsers and read again.
As we followed initial reports — she’s dead, no she’s alive — we were reminded of Dan Gillmor’s 2009 call for a slow news movement in the aftermath of that year’s Fort Hood shooting.
Simply, and precisely, too much misinformation spills through the airwaves and across the Web to form real opinions. Instead, much needs to be categorized under: Interesting, if true.
Rapid-fire news is about speed, and being speedy serves two main purposes for the provider. The first is gratification of the desire to be first. Humans are competitive, and in journalism newsrooms, scoops are a coin of the realm.
The second imperative is attracting an audience. Being first draws a crowd, and crowds can be turned into influence, money, or both. Witness cable news channels’ desperate hunt for “the latest” when big events are under way, even though the latest is so often the rankest garbage.
The urge to be first applies not just to those disseminating the raw information (which, remember, is often wrong) that’s the basis for breaking news. It’s also the case, for example, for the blogger who offers up the first sensible-sounding commentary that puts the “news” into perspective. The winners in the online commentary derby—which is just as competitive, though played for lower financial stakes—are the quick and deft writers who tell us what it all means. That they’re often basing their perspectives on falsehoods and inaccuracies seems to matter less than that they’re early to comment.