“HERE’S some news just in.” The news channel anchor looked very grave and stuck her finger in her ear, so that she would make no mistake.
“We’re hearing that someone has left a message on Facebook. It’s on the special memorial page set up in the wake of today’s tragedy.
“It says: ‘Rest in peace, wee man. You’ll be missed.’ The commenter chose to remain anonymous.”
And the anchor, using her reserved-for-real-heartbreak face, held the camera’s gaze for the extra moment allowed for matters of great weight before moving to the next item.
This didn’t actually happen… but I once witnessed something very close.
Tragedy is awful and, of course, people are interested in it. We want to know more about what happened and about the person to whom it happened.
And have you noticed how Facebook comments and Twitter outpourings – from people who might not be connected, in any way, to the story – are being reported as if they were actually news?
Now, I might be a bit old-school, but shouldn’t news be something new that is also interesting and relevant? There should be a story.
And what isn’t a story, most of the time, are people reacting to the news of a tragedy by expressing their sorrow.
Nowadays, social media is just an extension of very ordinary communication. So, where, previously, there may have been a shocked conversation at a bus stop – “My word, what an awful tragedy I hope the wee man’s at peace now” – that same shocked member of the public is just as likely to type those things online.
Just moving a bus stop chat to a public arena doesn’t make it any more interesting. And it certainly doesn’t replace the traditional approach of finding actual people who have something to do with the story and asking them questions.
Of course, there are plenty of newsworthy things happening on social media channels.
But please can we stop reporting social media nonsense, however well-intentioned, as news and go back to doing the job properly by asking questions and turning up stories?
There’s a possibility that if we don’t keep using our proper news-gathering skills – like the shorthand most of us slogged to acquire – the ability will wither and vanish, leaving us all the poorer.
Oh, and while I’m at it, it’s time that everyone in a newsroom got their heads around all this new-fangled stuff on the internet. How can you possibly make a judgment about a story with anything to do with social media if you don’t understand it?
This stuff isn’t the future and it’s not just for the youngsters. It’s the here and now, so you you’d better get used to it.
Ellen Arnison worked for the Daily Star of Scotland and the Scottish Daily Mirror. She now works freelance, including writing, subbing, search engine optimisation, brand journalism, ghost blogging, blogging, copywriting and social media. She is the author of ‘Blogging for Happiness: A Guide to Improving Positive Mental Health (and Wealth) from Your Blog’.