Unconfirmed Reports

by Dan Ward

I absolutely love this line from Buffalo News TV Critic Alan Pergament, explaining why he took several days to write about the use of “unconfirmed reports” in recent news stories:

I tend to do something that is increasingly rare and practically impossible to do in media circles these days:  think before acting.

Pergament was speaking specifically of news reports the previous week about a potential gunman on the University of Buffalo campus, news reports that were spurred by text messages and Facebook/Twitter posts.

Though the university and police were unable to confirm rumors of a gunman (as the story points out, no gunman was found, and there were no reports of shots fired), local media ran with the story.  Act first, ask questions later.

My first instinct was to bash those outlets for airing unconfirmed rumors that could have started a panic.  But as Pergament points out, that ship has sailed.  “Local TV stations and newspapers practically have no choice now but to address rumors for fear that they will look foolish if what they ignore turns out to be true,” he writes.

So I’ve given up thinking that traditional media will stop trying to compete with 100 million Facebook news feeds and instead serve as a voice of reason.

Instead, I see it as more important than ever that we as professional communicators take on that role.  Like the news media, we must be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice to emerging social media reports, but we can’t lose sight of our responsibility to avoid speculation and report factual information.  We have a responsibility to our clients, our organizations and the public to follow Pergament’s example, and think before acting.

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