Iran reporting tests journalism

This morning’s piece in The Observer by Lindsey Hilsum, international editor of Channel 4 News, and Peter Beaumont illustrated perfectly the challenges and dangers of reporting in a user-generated world which Jeff Jarvis outlined so well yesterday.

The story reads as if the writers had either personally witnessed much of what went on in Tehran yesterday, or had personally spoken to people who had. And yet, we know from other sources that reporting in Tehran was practically impossible in a conventional sense yesterday. Take this morning’s BBC story as an example. “The reports cannot be verified as foreign media in Iran are being severely restricted.”

Indeed, The Guardian’s own Matthew Weaver yesterday was one of the few around the world trying to make sense of the shifting landscape – and relying heavily on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to do so.

The risks of not being absolutely explicit about what you know first hand, have verified yourself through witnesses or are merely repeating as heresay are very great indeed.

The role of the mainstream media is changing. The world still needs professional journalists to help it navigate: to tell facts from supposition. But fulfilling that role requires an openness which may be very difficult for some. The quicker journalists adapt to their new role as curators, the better for all of us. The situation in Iran illustrates perfectly the need.

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