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, 14 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
As a former journalist and a researcher of the relationship between #news and #socialmedia, I think I understand both sides of the argument over whether tonight's presidential address should be carried live. A few thoughts. #Thread
It's important to look at the decision in itself. Even if you think it violates precedent, and therefore is hypocritical, it may be that the previous decisions were the wrong ones and shouldn't be repeated.
For example, if I used to throw my trash out the car window, arguing that it kept prisoners busy doing litter pickup, that's clearly stupid. If I now know it's dumb and stop doing it, that is a greater good than my being consistent by still doing it.
So why would the networks choose to broadcast this? A few reasons. First, it's not a campaign rally. It's an official government event by a sitting president. It's newsworthy.
Second, if they fail to cover it, that could well be argued to be a politically partisan decision. If the decision is based on it not being newsworthy, it's worth it to take the heat of that argument. I don't think that's the case here.
Third, just because it's difficult to cover responsibly doesn't mean it's not worth doing. There's concern that facts may be skewed or misrepresented and that this will be quite difficult to fact check in real time. That kind of fact checking IS very hard. You still MUST do it.
As has been highlighted by many tweets and articles over the last few years, #news is governed a little bit by law and a whole lot by ethics. I look to the @spj_tweets code of ethics here.
A few pieces are highly applicable in this case. "Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate." Arguably, this could be done after the fact, but fact checking during an event people are watching will impact those who watch live and nothing else.
"Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant." Civil is the word that will cause trouble here, but again, it's an actual presidential address.
"Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government..." This is where the fact-checking comes in.
It's useful to note that the last part of the code is transparency, and this is the part that I think is missing. " Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content."
I shouldn't be making this argument for the networks - they should be doing this for themselves. This story says to even find out that the speech would be carried live required using unnamed sources. This is a problem.…
I hope we see the networks "Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness," as the ethics code also says. Why are you broadcasting? How will you handle any misinformation? This is also part of your job.
One last thing - Twitter is a lousy place for civil discussions. I threw the text of this thread on my blog at If you want to leave comments there, I'll do my best to respond with more nuance than Twitter allows.
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