Editor's Blog - How we work, how we make decisions, how we serve Canadians.

Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

The Perils of Breaking News

Categories: Journalism, World

jerusalem synagogue - large.jpg

An Israeli man prays outside of the Jerusalem synagogue where 5 people were killed by Palestinian attackers

By Brodie Fenlon
Managing Editor, CBCnews.ca

The moments when a big story unfolds is one of the most exciting times to be in the newsroom - and also one of the most perilous.

Whether we're reporting on your radio, television, computer, or smartphone, our goal is to get you the information as quickly, and as accurately, as possible. And in our best moments, we provide just the right context to help you understand what's happening.

Last month's shooting in Ottawa was a perfect example of how seriously CBC News takes that challenge. The feedback we have received from across the country and beyond has been very gratifying. People appreciate the soberness of our approach, and the care with which we handled what was known and what wasn't.

Another recent big, breaking story came in the early hours of yesterday morning, when two Palestinian men attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing five people (others, including one Canadian, were also injured). Israeli police shot and killed the two attackers.

Throughout yesterday, reporter Derek Stoffel and others led our coverage in an exemplary way: explaining what happened, what it meant, and what could happen next.
But we've also received a fair bit of criticism over the very first headline we wrote online when the story broke, just after 1 AM Eastern. It read: "Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack."

Those facts were accurate. But the headline upset people who felt it suggested that the police actions were more noteworthy than the fact the synagogue had been attacked. Some of them said that we were disregarding the Israeli victims of this attack, and accused us of injecting an editorial slant.

Their concerns were exacerbated by the fact that as a first headline on a "Breaking News" story, the headline was repeated automatically in a tweet from the official CBC News account.

We agree that the initial headline should have better conveyed the true essence of the story - and that story was the attack on the synagogue. But let's keep things in perspective. The editor was trying to emphasize the facts that could be confirmed at that moment. And as more facts rolled in, a clearer picture emerged. Within an hour we had updated the story, written a more appropriate headline, and sent out new tweets to much better reflect the event, and its significance, in the right context. That's a normal pattern with breaking news, too - the online story had dozens of updates throughout the day.

It was a good example of the perils of reporting on a breaking news story where some key facts were still unclear. By the time most Canadians woke up yesterday morning, our coverage looked and sounded responsible, balanced and comprehensive. That may have been lost on the people retweeting an hours-old breaking news headline as though it were still current. One thing we'll do is review whether we have enough editorial checks and balances in place in the middle of the night to ensure we put our best foot forward, 24-7.

Tags: How We Work

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