Since its invention in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web has skyrocketed. It is used by over 3.2 billion people around the globe. It has changed the way we travel, shop, research, date, and most importantly, the way we communicate.
With the subsequent ideas of social media, e.g., Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook, online/digital journalism is now a rising feat. In a matter of minutes a story can go "viral" reaching hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. In a society where people crave attention, this can be a problem. For journalists, the need to break a story first trumps all.
Being first is great, having thousands of followers is fantastic, but are your core values and ethics as a journalist changing in order to accomplish this? Pew Research Center posed the following question to newspaper and broadcast journalists, "...in what way(s) is the Internet changing the fundamental values of journalism?" Some of the top answers included loosening standards, emphasis on speed (both good and bad), more opinion or bias, and less analysis/more superficial.
But what standards are being loosened? Of those surveyed, some stated accuracy, fact-checking, and unsourced reporting. Reporting information that is not accurate is not only damaging to your credibility, but it’s also embarrassing. The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics clearly states, “[j]ournalists should… take responsibility for the accuracy of their work.” The RTDNA code of ethics values “[t]ruth and accuracy above all.”
A recent article published Aaron Kasinitz of the American Journalism Review, proves that fact-checking is a must in this era of digital journalism. With the 2016 presidential election in full swing anyone can write false information about a candidate in hopes of lowering their votes. It’s essential to check the facts. Unsourced reporting should be absolutely inexcusable. When journalists do not disclose their source(s) this brings up questions about the accuracy of the story. Is this person telling the truth, or did they just simply make it up? Are they using outdated material? Is the source reliable and credible? There are just too many unanswered questions.
Emphasis on speed is discussed in the RTDNA model, stating that “‘trending,’ ‘going viral’ or exploding on social media’ may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.” The SPJ code points out that, “neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” If all you are concerned about is being the first to break a story, then there is likely going to be pertinent information that you miss.
In order for this world to keep moving forward and make progress, people need to have their own opinions and ideas. But, they need to be able to base their opinion on facts. Reading an article based solely on someone’s opinion or personal bias will not elicit all sides of the matter.
Due to the speed in which the world revolves now, superficial stories are posted constantly. Journalists skim the surface, report their story, then move on. We need to dig deep, analyze the situation, check the facts, then report the story. Give your article more breadth, facts, and sources.
Digital journalism is not going away, but it appears as if some of the core values may be disappearing. In response we need to come up with new values that take into consideration the changes in our society.