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Old Uses 'New' to Cover Haiti Disaster

The Columbia Journalism Review presents an excellent wrap-up piece on the role "new" media played, and continues to play, in covering the events following the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti late Tuesday afternoon.

With most phone lines down and things at a virtual standstill in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where the damage has been reported to be the worst, individual eyewitness accounts of the devastation came pouring in from Twitter users, postings on Facebook pages, and through calls on Skype, the computer-generated phone service.

Major news services then rallied to accrue as much of this information as possible and disseminated it to their readers, listeners and viewers. It's fair to say that only a few years ago, we might have been given only half the information that has flowed from the devastated island nation the past 36 hours or so. Certainly a decade ago, these individual accounts would have been only a fraction of what they are today.

As the CJR says, "... the world owes a measure of debt to new media platforms -- which will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in Haiti in the days and months to come -- for their assistance in facilitating the early response to this disaster."

With so much information coming at us from so many sources, good care should be taken to ensure that it is completely verifiable and reliable.

Or perhaps absolute accuracy becomes one of the first casualties in desperate times like these? Let's hope not.

I have little doubt that the vast majority of these major news operations are doing the requisite fact-checking and verifying to make sure the information they are receiving is authentic and accurate. One needs only go back to the reckless coverage of the "Balloon Boy" incident, however, to fly a flag of warning that too much information coming in too fast could become too much of a good thing.

It would take only a few erroneous reports of life and death out of Haiti, for people to doubt the source(s) that provided this information.

Accuracy and credibility are the bedrocks of any news-gathering operation, and must be the priority at all times.