"If it bleeds, it leads." Ah, the ever-so-cliché phrase heard by nearly every reporter and reporter-to-be. But how true is it, and what are the implications of it?
Stories focused on sensitive topics, notably mass shootings or crime, garner a wider, more diverse audience. Readers have an insatiable desire for the latest breaking news, according to David J. Krajicek and Debora Wenger from The Poynter Institute, but the increased strain on reporters to bring them the latest tends to reduce the quality of sources and stories.
"We no longer work for the next show. We work for the next five minutes on the web," said Amanda Lamb in the Poynter article. Reporters are in a constant battle to keep readers coming back in an internet-laden society.
The Poynter article goes on to discuss the importance of facts in regards to using high-quality sources. One slip in the spelling of a name, or listing an incorrect location has the potential to turn a reader away from any future stories. When dealing with breaking news, readers' interest tends to spike and plummet faster than with soft news stories. One mistake in a reporter's race against the clock can be more detrimental than imagined.
In an effort to avoid widespread sharing of erroneous information, some police departments and governmental offices have resorted to sharing breaking news stories on their own time - and through their own medium.
Some members of law enforcement find that when crimes are covered by the media, rather than law enforcement itself, the publication's following tends to bring a watchdog point-of-view. Rather than taking the story at face value, readers analyze the video and implore the reporter to investigate any unclear details.
This intense analysis of crime stories has led some departments to take additional steps to prevent information from falling to the hands of members of the media. According to Diana Marszalek for Broadcasting and Cable, the Washington D.C. police department has gone as far as to encrypt their scanners to deter reporters from using the information.
In the case of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection denied the local press access to several documents related to the tragedy for almost two years. The documents were only given to the Hartford Courant after a lengthy Freedom of Information Act request.
The records were not withheld due to fears of mishandling on behalf of the press, but rather the department's belief that they did not serve any immediate public interest. As a breaking news story, the shooting generated an unprecedented amount of national and international coverage, which was the argument the Courant made.
In order to present all of the facts of the story to a very invested public, the Courant needed the full story from those who took part in the investigation of the murders. If there were missing pieces, the publication stood the risk of printing incorrect or misleading facts, which could turn the public away from future stories regarding the matter.
While it is important to draw readers in through breaking news stories, the real challenge is making sure facts are correct and pieces are together in the small amount of time offered in breaking news. Though it can be a challenge, it is detrimental in developing a consistent base of readers who will be ready to delve into future stories.