(Note: This is adapted from a “Tweetstorm” earlier today.)

More than a decade ago I begged journalists and sharers of breaking news to employ a “slow news” approach. The Kobe Bryant story demonstrates that need more than ever.

What’s slow news? It’s the notion that we should slow down before publishing information we can’t absolutely verify, and before believing what we’ve seen published.

I’m sorry to say that we haven’t made enough progress. Slowing down before publishing is the duty (I believe it should be viewed that way) of journalists and social media sharers. Yesterday’s barrage of misinformation, incomplete information, and guesses demonstrated that we’re not close.

Since we can’t expect journalists to do it, and social media’s vastness guarantees that incomplete or wrong information will spread fast, it’s really up to the rest of us — the “consumers” of information — to adopt a slow-news philosophy.

In our digital media literacy course at the Cronkite School, Kristy Roschke and I ask students to pause before believing or sharing pretty much anything, especially when it’s breaking news or a fast-developing story. We use examples like this to show why that’s needed.It comes down to this:

The faster the news accelerates, the slower I am inclined to believe anything I hear — and the harder I look for the coverage that pulls together the most facts with the most clarity about what’s known and what’s speculation.

Meanwhile, if journalists won’t stop spraying out the latest speculation, the least they can do is to find ways to get updates and corrections to as many of the people who’ve read the early “news” as quickly and broadly as possible.

At the ASU News Co/Lab, which I co-founded a couple of years ago, we’re working on ways to help journalists and prominent sharers do just that. A tool, now under development, can partially automate the process of sending corrections down the same social pathways that the original errors traveled.

We’re in “pre-alpha” testing of the tool, which Ted Han is developing, and it looks promising. More on this work here.

(If you’re in a newsroom and want to get a look at this, let us know!

While the tool is aimed first at corrections of major errors, we see updates in these kinds of situations as an important use case. Sometimes the original information isn’t “wrong” in a traditional journalistic sense — example: the police give out an incorrect death toll.

But the public doesn’t care where the misinformation came from, and a journalistic duty is to get the correct information out there, pronto. So when the news is “developing” — if you see that word on a story, it’s probably changing fast — we may be able to help.

I’m under no illusions that slow news will become the norm for creators of information, certainly not for newsrooms or people who use social media as an attention-getter. But I hope we can make progress and reduce at least some of the rumor-mongering.

As creators and consumers, we all need to reflect on what we’re doing. Please consider adopting a slow news approach.

It boils down to this: Take a breath, and think.

One thought on “Kobe Bryant tragedy shows why we still need ‘slow news’

  1. Dan, I wholeheartedly concur. Families should not learn of the death of loved ones on Twitter. A good friend learned of her father’s death on Facebook and although she was in her 30s at the time, she has never gotten over it. We can help as individuals by stifling the need to comment about public figures we don’t know. Same for businesses and organizations without a direct relationship. It’s not about YOU.

Leave a Reply