Monday, September 14, 2015

Navigating the Internet's Assault on Truth

Kaylee Powers

In a fast-paced world where even if a newspaper decides to hold back and wait to verify the information somebody else is posting before them, and where people are drawn more to cat videos than governmental scandals, journalists have a hard time striking the balance between accuracy versus speed.

Speed Versus Accuracy
Marc Fisher highlights this problem in Who cares if it’strue? Modern Day Newsrooms Consider Their Values Online, periodicals are discovering that today’s generation of news consumers demand quick access to information. When there is a breaking story people want to be able to do a quick Google search and find everything they want to know, whether it’s a tweet from someone on the scene or a detailed write up.

However, the advancement of the internet and a faster-paced news world is a double-edged sword because if you mess up, you mess up BIG. At the same time citizens demand that journalists get them information as fast as possible, they’re more than happy to revel in their mistakes and tweet in outrage when a story goes up with an improper quote.

Interestingly, people seem to be ok with these mistakes as long as they’re transparent and acknowledged. One would think that seeing an entire paragraph of editor’s notes on the bottom of the story about what has been corrected since first publishing would make people distrust what they read. In actuality, corrections add an extra layer of perceived accuracy, almost in a “Oh look they cared so much that they changed it so it would be correct” way.

Another answer to this dilemma is curating user generated content. Content curation tools like Storify can be used to provide readers an aggregation of live tweets surrounding breaking news, both from your reporters and the public. This also automatically declares “Take this with a grain of salt, it's social media.” There is a vast difference between a person tweeting “A bomb just went off in City Hall” and a newspaper reporting it as fact without checking in order to respond quickly or the newspaper simply linking to the tweet and admitting “This is all we know so far.”

What is newsworthy?
News outlets are also facing issues of truth when the people want “edutainment” and “fluff pieces.” For example, Buzzfeed is currently striking this balance by having a video of "The 9 People You Play in Beer Pong"

and "Manhunt Underway for Man Who Killed Kentucky State Trooper" show up on the same homepage. Traditional thinking would say that this lowers the credibility of the quality of Buzzfeed’s news, yet they seem to be thriving because it is so much a part of Buzzfeed’s brand that this is what users have come to expect (and want).

This model would not work for everyone though. If the New York Times suddenly began posting videos about “23 Reasons Your Cat Hates You” people would have an aversion to the sudden change in perceived credibility, not to mention academics in the journalism world hanging their head in shame.

To adapt to change newspapers need to redefine their brand and it make it more friendly, but still hold onto their air of credibility. If the stodgiest, boring newspaper that has well-written content is a 1 and the old, click-bait laden version (not the newer, evolving into a news outlet) of Buzzfeed is a 10, newspapers should be transitioning themselves to around a 4.

They can build a social media presence and tweet funny commentary from an account dedicated to that, or really milk the news video of a record-breaking cat for optimal Facebook sharing cuteness, without entirely losing their identity as a purveyor of trustworthy information. Then, when they do post that hard-hitting piece exposing governmental corruption more eyes will see it.

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