Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be Accurate; Be Transparent on Social Media

by Chris Yangas

The United States is a nation that's driven by the dollar of the individual; likewise, most U.S. news companies today are owned and primarily funded by private corporations and investors. This is a problem, of course. It's not going away any time soon.

But beyond that, the immersing of much of our developed society into the Internet has brought innovation that allows consumers to publish their own content -- now, often, in competition with the media. Social media, in particular, has become the main aggregator of news consumers that often challenge the structure of mainstream news distribution.

This phenomenon has increased our competition while decreasing our credibility, and I feel bad for journalists of the older generations who are slow to adjust to a platform they once never imagined was possible.

But the fact is that our roles are changing just as radio's role once changed in media or the role of baseball has changed in sports. The truth is that news companies are going to see their viewership decrease, if not permanently, at least for the next decade.

And there's no stopping it: Citizen journalism as a whole is much more efficient than what we do. People who are close to the scene have better info on its details than those of us who parachute, which is why community journalism outlets haven't taken the same hit that bigger news outlets have taken.

But we journalists generally still have advantages in the ways we tell stories. We've gone to college to do this. We've been taught to use better judgment, strong ethics and to strive for objectivity, though it is nonexistent. And we still have the advantages of using these teachings along with whatever technical training we may have to produce stories that people find good use for: We can still be informative and entertaining.

We just need to remember why we do this: Getting the first looks at your page isn't worth being incorrect to your readers. Think about it, major events around the country produce media attention for more than a week after the event transpires. Whitney Houston's death was reported incorrectly but it made news for days on end even on social media, where many younger, millennial users couldn't name any songs from her besides, the legendary, "I Will Always Love You."

Why get out of your way to produce b.s. (making you no better than a gossip magazine) instead of piggybacking on the content wire services provide -- still adding story developments, context and analysis -- while doing your job correctly and maintaining your integrity?

 Really? You went to college for this?
Along those lines, it's important to understand that we'll make mistakes but the key is being able to justify those mistakes, along with our triumphs, in order to promote the greater good of what we do.

In 2009, an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and messages on Twitter reportedly from "inside the post" falsely stated that there were multiple shooters who kept firing for a half-hour. Journalists disseminated the incorrect information to others, presumably, in order to get the word out to those who were still in danger.

In that case, the ethical reasoning of those who dispersed the info to protect others would take precedent over the chance of that info being wrong, because many people with good intentions would rather ensure that they save lives than accidentally cry wolf.

The reasoning is there; so should the transparency. Through right and wrong decisions, people with good intentions should be able to explain their reasoning, and so should we, because we're human.

So be accurate; be transparent on social media -- and everywhere. It's what gives our profession meaning.

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