Lack of Information — Because this happened in a country that isn’t known for terrorist activity, the reason behind the attacks wasn’t immediately clear. The identity of the person responsible also took hours to emerge. The lack of specific, credible information should have been a warning sign to the press: be wary of speculation. Hold back. In fact, it helped lead to speculation. People on cable news had to fill time. Online newsrooms need to keep offering new information and context. Everyone wanted to hear more about what was happening in Norway, yet the central question—who did it?—could not be answered. So some in the press attempted to provide just enough of a tease to keep people watching and reading and listening.
Personal Beliefs — This is valid for all of us, in that personal beliefs and convictions can impact any story we report. It’s particularly true for the pundits and experts trotted out by many of the cable news programs. Bias can and does play a role when it comes to a situation like this. Combine this with the element of Recent History and some people are not going to be able to contain themselves.
Need to Feed the Beast — It’s a recipe for disaster when you have the above situation because it inevitable combines with this factor to create an environment ripe for speculation. In today’s real-time news and information environment, the need to constantly fill air time, add updates and push a story forward leads to speculation and, too often, incorrect claims. Our need for speed, to feed the hunger out there for the latest information, becomes very risky when there simply isn’t enough credible information.
Competitive Drive —Everyone wants to beat the competition. We venerate the scoop, celebrate our firsts. And if someone at a competing news organization has a piece of information that you don’t, you’re going to try an take their nugget of info and push it one step further. It’s a vicious cycle and it plays out in every major news event. When it works, it leads to scoops and important revelations. When it doesn’t, it leads to mistakes and harm.
Any other factors I missed? Please share them in the comments.
Correction of the Week
“Our article of May 7 2011 “8st kick-boxing WPC scares off thugs” included a photograph said to be that of Richard Chadwick who was convicted of an attack on six people in Leeds, including bursting into one home and threatening to kill the occupant’s baby. The photograph was actually of Mark O’Brien who has no connection to this offence whatsoever.” — Daily Express (U.K.)