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Christchurch attacks: the media's rush to be first causes its own kind of harm

5 18 23

Rookie journalists struggling with their copy are often told by news editors: “Just tell the story”. An esteemed colleague once told me his first editor told him to imagine shouting the intro to an aged relative moving away at speed on a bus.

Boiling an event down to who, what, why, where and when is the basis of all news coverage for a reason – it tells the story. But what happens when being fast and crafting a simple narrative becomes misleading or causes its own kind of harm?

This question has become increasingly relevant over the past decade. The internet has brought incredible new ways of telling stories. But it has also made being first and most furious seem like the best way to triumph in a fiercely competitive market.

Two entirely separate events last week made it clear that the media needs urgently to adapt the way it conveys information and carries out its business.

The recent terror attack in Christchurch, which allowed an online audience to watch a massacre through the eyes of the killer as though it were a live action movie, and a mundane meeting between a domestic homicide campaign group and a media regulator might not appear to have much in common. Yet both show us that it is in the treatment of victims that the media is most likely to cause offence and most likely to get it wrong: the first through the overexcited use of new technology and the second because of base assumptions.

Much has been written about the Christchurch gunman’s use of Facebook livestream, a technology which allows us all – including mass murderers – to become video broadcasters. But there are still lessons to be learned about the way the incident was dealt with by media. There were 1.5m attempts to re-upload the video to Facebook after it was first taken down, about a fifth of which were successful.

One version of the video monitored by the Guardian was left live on Facebook for at least six hours, while others were available on YouTube for at least three. More inexplicably, given traditional media’s often justifiable outrage at the........

© The Guardian