‘Instant’ news not always reliable

A column by Misty Poe, managing editor of The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Instant.

That little word has a pretty big meaning. With origins that date back to the 15th century, it means urgent, current, immediate.

But think about how that word has developed over the past few decades.

Instant pudding. Instead of slaving over a hot stove for a few minutes, you can now pour cold milk and with a bit of stirring, instant pudding!

Instant tan. No time to sit at the beach or the pool to get that bronzed look? Now you can instantly “tan” by spraying your body with a can, using a lotion or standing in a booth. Voilà!

Instant messaging. Suddenly you could send a message to a friend over the Internet that would instantly pop up in a chat window. It was an instant success, as it cut down the wasted seconds it took to wait for an email.

We want things to happen instantly. Instant credit! Instant results! Instant quote! Why wouldn’t we want things immediately?

Well, there’s a lot behind the saying “good things come to those who wait.” Why? Because no matter how hard you try, instant pudding just doesn’t taste as good as homemade. That instant credit comes with a huge annual percentage rate. Instant results are usually superficial and don’t really get to the root of the reason why you needed the product to begin with.

Instant news isn’t all it’s crack up to be, either.

There’s a news-gathering process that takes place when you tackle every story, whether it be a breaking news event or an in-depth piece. You collect as much information as possible. You check to make sure that information is accurate. You confirm the information from sources of authority on the issue.

I’m an old newshound. I cut my teeth in journalism before smartphones and digital cameras and wide use of the Internet. I didn’t even have a work email address for several years here at the Times West Virginian. Back then, at the turn of the century if you can believe it, I could not imagine a time where I could be on the scene of a developing news story and update readers from a “computer” I could carry around in my pocket. Who could have known that with that smartphone, I could take pictures, video, write the story, post it to the website (I’m pretty sure we didn’t have one back then) and then alert readers on multiple social media sites?

All of that exists now. We have the power to do all those things. But that doesn’t mean the news process should be any different than it was back at the turn of the century when readers got the news of the day at 6 a.m. We have to maintain our standards of journalism integrity no matter how “instant” the news is…

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