7. Balancing Immediacy and Verification

The editors of the National Post faced a classic journalistic dilemma: speed vs. accuracy. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write, “In the context of gathering news, speed is almost always the enemy of accuracy.” [1] While this may be true, journalists should not simply discount speed in economic terms as a means of “scooping” competing outlets in a rush to gain eyeballs or clicks. Responsible communication law acknowledges that the news is a “perishable commodity” and that “jurors should take into account the media’s need to file timely reports on important allegations and events.” [2] However, would publishing an unverified Facebook picture add to the story and substantiate an argument of public interest? Or, would the deleterious effect of being wrong justify withholding the picture until the account was verified?

Watch: Iris Fischer lays out the case in favour of publishing the Facebook profile.

The question that editors at the National Post would have to consider is the necessity of publishing this unverified Facebook profile. What did it really add to the story? Was the rush to publish the Facebook picture so important that it could not hold until proper verification? The police had already released Bourque’s name and pictures of Bourque walking the streets of Moncton with guns and in camouflage gear were already being disseminated on social media by witnesses.

Would this Facebook picture add more necessary context to what was already out there or, would it simply feed the public’s curiosity? Posting the Facebook profile of the suspected perpetrator of one of the worst crimes committed in modern Canadian history would generate a lot of clicks, but if the National Post was wrong, they might have a difficult time arguing that posting the unverified Facebook profile was in the public interest. Another risk that the National Post would have to consider is that if they were wrong, they could seriously harm the reputation and even the safety of an innocent individual.

Watch: Peter Downard explains why the National Post should not publish the Facebook profile.

[1] Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2014), 59.

[2] Dean Jobb, Media Law for Canadian Journalists Second Edition (Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications, 2011), 119.

Next: 8. Omitting the Unverified: Joel Eastwood and the Toronto Star