Yesterday Boston Celtics forward Sheldon Williams sent out a tweet with very little information: “Man when it rains it pours!!! Yall will find out what I mean soon!!!!”
Within minutes, NBC and Celtics blogs began speculating what he could be talking about. The first assumption that quickly picked up steam and David Aldridge of NBA.com soon reported that Paul Pierce had a broken foot and would miss a large part of the remainder of the season. People on Twitter were RT’ing each other recklessly, blogs were posting this information at reckless speeds, and this had all come from one very vague tweet.
The something happened – the Celtics put out a statement contradicting the Twitter buzz. It said that Pierce strained his foot and was listed day-to-day. This news was quite different from what was being circulated on the Internet.
Maybe Sheldon Williams was indeed talking about Pierce’s injury – just for the mere fact that he was hurt. Maybe he was talking about something else basketball related, or maybe it was a totally separate subject. In any case, many media members have become so focused on breaking the story first that the accuracy of what they’re reporting suffers.
I don’t blame the reporters for this – they’re just trying to earn a living and make a name for themselves. It’s the structure of reporting that has initiated this change. Twitter’s popularity and 140 character posts have simplified reporting to quick announcements that don’t need sources attached to them. It’s allowed reporters to broadcast news to a large audience quickly and claim their dominance of the story before getting into the details and writing a full article. Often times this is great – it enables people to get information so quickly, like during Apple’s iPad announcement. However, as we saw in this case yesterday, it also increases blind assumptions sacrifices accuracy.