The social information age

Dwarfed by the conflagration at Lakeland Mills Monday night, (April 23) were the Northern Lights.

Bill Phillips

Prince George Free Press

Dwarfed by the conflagration at Lakeland Mills Monday night, (April 23) were the Northern Lights.

It was kind of surreal as I raced to the scene of the fire and watched the dancing lights in the northern sky. The Northern Lights are always spectacular and mesmerizing.

However, on Monday, a much more pressing task was at hand.

For the media, covering such an event is challenging and exhilarating all at the same time. With the Internet so prevalent in today’s news gathering, everyone is scrambling to get information out, and quickly.

I have to tip my hat the folks at the Citizen who printed off copies of their paper and then were distributing them to fire onlookers as the events unfolded. It’s a challenge to get news out quickly online, but even more challenging to get it out quickly in print.

The other challenge is to get accurate information out and, with the speed of the Internet, the mantra now, is too often, “post now, correct as you go.”

There is an inherent danger in doing that, which is, of course, publishing incorrect information.

With the “virality” of news on the web, news like a big fire and explosion travel very, very fast. Wrong information can go far and wide faster than we can take it back.

Monday night’s fire was a prime example. Fire Chief John Lane announced shortly after 11 p.m. that there were five people unaccounted for. Shortly after that announcement I headed back to the office and posted that to our Facebook page. Within minutes there was a posting on our Facebook page saying that CKPG was reporting all were accounted for. All this within 15 or 20 minutes.

I didn’t have it confirmed that were accounted for, but pulled the “five missing” tag from the headline.

As media, we have to keep in mind that it’s not only the public at large who may be seeking information, but family and friends of those involved. The wrong information can be devastating.

Getting the right information is what our role really is in times of crisis … not getting the wrong information first.

Having said that I think the Prince George media did a stellar job of covering the explosion and fire.

Checking websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, etc. Monday night I didn’t encounter any wildly speculative or sensational stories from the Prince George media.

You can check our website for a “storified” account of the night’s social media traffic, which is basically a conglomeration of posts from all sorts of people regarding the blaze. It’s fascinating to see how far and how quickly the news travelled in this, the social information age.