Critical Thinking: Has Social Media Diminished Journalistic Integrity?

By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: Has Social Media Diminished Journalistic Integrity?

Q: Has the need to break news first through social media diminished the integrity of the journalism profession because of reporting errors?

Christina Downs, 21, senior, Howard University (Washington, D.C.)
Downs is a print journalism major and photography minor. A native of Athens, Ga., she is editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Hilltop. The American Society of Magazine Editors selected Downs for an internship at AARP magazine. She was also awarded a White House Correspondents’ Association Scholarship.

In a world where journalists have seconds to catch the attention of a reader, social media is a blessing. It’s brief. It’s interactive. It’s fast.

But the immediacy of social media tools such as Twitter can also be a journalist’s worst enemy. Since the pressure to break news is a heavy burden cast on the media professional, social media should be carefully considered and studied before it’s used for reporting.

Technology is based on the notion that faster is always better. As a society we have adopted this mentality for almost every facet of our lives. We want our food sooner, our careers faster, and our news now.

To 21st century journalists, charged with serving both the needs and wants of their audience, it’s easy to become swept away by this speedy mindset. Soon we begin to justify bad choices, such as overlooking potential biases or points of inaccuracy, based on the public’s perceived need to get the news immediately.

As we charge forward, we must greatly question the motives behind our reporting decisions. Reporters are not athletes, and therefore the two should not behave the same. Our goal should not center on beating our opponents to the finish line.

A journalist’s only goal should be telling the truth in the most accurate and ethically sound way possible. Social media is an undoubtedly amazing addition to the storytelling inventory of the 21st century journalist, but consider this: After a while, people do not necessarily remember who broke the story, but they certainly remember who made the errors.

Vickie Schaffeld Holbrook, 56, managing editor, Idaho Press-Tribune

Holbrook is managing editor of the Idaho Press-Tribune, a daily newspaper in Nampa, Idaho. She graduated from Oregon State University and started her journalism career at the Nampa newspaper in 1979.

A: No, but we must work harder to protect that integrity. Let’s face it: Social media is one of the greatest tools and greatest banes of traditional journalism.

In today’s push for instant gratification, people want to know breaking news as it develops. Television and radio gave bits and pieces of news as it became available long before social media became part of the information mix. Hence, the “must-report-it-first” mentality has certainly escalated. But I don’t think the credibility suffers. Legitimate news organizations know a reputation for getting it right is essential.

Gossip television shows, bloggers and citizen journalists are in the game as well because they aren’t always differentiated from credible media sources; the public’s perception may be skewed.

Professionals qualify developing news phrases such as “initially reported,” “early reports indicate,” or “check our website for more details.” It’s our job, as professional journalists to get it right — in social media as well as our print and online products.

Now we have to work harder to present that breaking news in 140 characters, short Facebook posts, or tiny bytes of information. Sometimes the greater picture is lost or misunderstood until the more complete story is finally released. The rush to be first can also mean journalistic disaster if there’s a misplaced word or someone jumps the gun and reports inaccurate news.

Professional journalists have always made mistakes, but I don’t see more mistakes being made because of social media sites. Those mistakes are just magnified on the Internet because they can’t be deleted; they’ve already been retweeted and Facebooked en masse.

Professional journalists and news organizations must underscore the importance of accuracy and differentiate themselves from the rabble.

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