Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Immediacy Before Accuracy? The Online Dilemma

Colleen Veeley

The new age of the Internet has added an unexpected element to the field of journalism over the past decade. Consumers are viewing more of what they want and getting information faster. With the speed of the Internet comes responsibility that should be held by all journalists to get news out to the public in the same way it is reported through print. I will be taking a look at both the good and bad side of online journalism and the ethics that go along with it.

The Good

•The speed: Reporters in print media are the same as online journalists in terms getting the news out, and fast. Journalism is a 24/7 job that never ever sleeps, especially in today's era of constant contact and news about anything and everything. With this news cycle that the advent of the Internet and cable has produced comes a demand for more stories in a shorter amount of time. Online journalism allows reporters to give the public any information that has already been obtained on a breaking news story. There is no need to wait until the entire story has been written to get out the important information that reporters already know. For example, The Washington Post had news about the death of Osama bin Laden, so they published this information on the Internet along with a note saying more information would come after the president spoke on national television. Twitter broke the news hours before President Obama was finished writing his speech, according to an article in the New York Times. The nation no longer needs to wait for the president of the United States to address the nation. We all already know.

•It offers multiple dimensions: Online journalism allows reporters to add several dimensions to their stories to make the writing stronger. The Internet allows stories to be linked to other stories for background information. For example, when the LA Times broke news about the arrest of the Ohio highway shooter in 2004, links were used in the article to relay back to previous stories covered about accidents and use archives on the side of the page for readers to click through. Also, videos can easily be added to articles to show live coverage of an event or back up the information in the article. It allows for more information in a smaller space than print.

The Bad

•The accuracy: News organizations are all competing to get the breaking news out the public first. With this rush comes detail inaccuracies. Inaccurate information is reported all the time in print and broadcast news, but can be done much more quickly online. There is a lack of fact checking in the online system which damages the reputability of online journalists. Just because a rumor has been broken to you on Facebook or Twitter does not mean it is true. Research still needs to be done just like in newspaper coverage to make sure the information is honest and accurate. The web spreads information like wildfire from page to page and can be much harder to correct wrong information. Once it is out there, the real information is hard to engrain in the reader's heads who have just read the false information. The online journalist must take the step to be accurate before taking the step to be first.

• Core values: Online journalists feel the rush to get information out there and sometimes forget their code of ethics. In Rem Rieder's article about the Internet changing the game, he says, "The rush to post is no excuse for jettisoning our core values." Although the Internet is the newest and most exciting platform to hit journalism thus far, it is still journalism and should be valued as such.

What information can you use?
Online social media sites share content quickly and between friends, bloggers, etc. But what information is allowed to be used in articles by journalists? This can be tricky because it can damage a person's reputation just by one tweet written or one video posted. The same ethics that apply in print and broadcast news should apply in online reporting along with added guidelines for tough situations like what content is public property and what should stay personal. Rumors are hard to reverse online and defamation can happen much quicker than with print or broadcast. Online reporters must take the extra step to fact check and get ALL sides of a story before posting. Timing is not everything if the information is false. Social media sites allow consumers to post their thoughts and should not be a basis for a news article. In the article about Twitter and Osama bin Laden's death, the reporter wrote, "Twitter's public face also means that early rumors can land you in hot water. In an attempt to leak Osama in Laden's death to the world, MSNBC correspondent Norah O'Donnel accidentally repoprted that it was Obama that was shot and killed instead." Accuracy is everything.

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