Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thoughts and Musings on Social Media and Journalism

By Amanda Weisbrod

As a journalist, nowadays it's virtually impossible to hold a job if you don't have a large online presence, amassing at least a few hundred followers. But with this mandatory social and professional relationship to social media outlets comes ethically confusing situations. Is it okay to be myself on Twitter and Instagram, or will a future employer look through my posts from OU's Halloween block party years from now and decide not to hire me because of them? When is it okay to voice my opinion about issues that really fire me up, like gender equality and sexual-harrassment? Do the answers to these questions differ for journalists and the normal, every-day person?

The Truth
Twitter's constant struggle with news organizations is the race to be the very first to publish breaking news. Often times, as mentions in its article titled Twitter: Often first, not always right, Twitter users beat major media outlets, such as the Associated Press, to reporting the story, which, unfortunately, leads to the retweeting of major mistakes thousands of times over. With the truth constantly in question, it's no wonder that online citizens continuously question whether what they're reading or not is real.

I find myself questioning everything that I scroll past on Facebook, wondering if this blog is real or if that person checked the facts before sharing something. For journalists, it is imperative that they always disclose where they found the information in order to have true transparency. Without transparency and disclosure, backlash from spreading false information is much greater than it needs to be. By placing the blame on someone else for the incorrect information, the journalist or news organization has the opportunity to double-check themselves and correct any mistakes if needed.

Verification and Curation
Because the news industry has gone through such an enormous change in a very small amount of time, journalists and media organizations everywhere are still trying to figure out all of the details when it comes to privacy rights, accountability and accuracy. I thought CNN's online article made a great point relating to the current job description of news outlets: "the role of current news organizations is to establish trust, to verify and to make sense of the chaotic flood of information we receive from social networks."

It's almost like journalists have transformed from being the watchdogs of the government to being the watchdogs of literally everything published online, whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr or LinkedIn. Nothing is safe from the public eye anymore.

Following Facebook's lead with a trending-topics sidebar, Twitter takes news-gathering a step further. With Twitter's latest update, users now have access to the "Moments" tab, which puts users the latest trending news at the user's fingertips. Click on one of the trending topics, and Twitter directs the user to a sliding feed of related tweets on the issue. Only two or three of these related tweets are from legitimate news organizations. The rest are from verified social figures and celebrities, and sometimes, they're from the average person who just so happened to post the right thing at the right time.

With the access to Twitter-journalism becoming increasingly available, one can only wonder how other social media websites will establish their own news distribution methods, and how they will impact the media industry as a whole in years to come.

Public Online Sourcing 
Twitter is public, even when your profile is set to private. Anyone can access your online history at any point in time, making social networks a great tool for journalists, and sometimes an invasion of privacy to the average person. Unfortunately, if something you tweet goes viral, the journalist has to be more dedicated to the news than to the expectations of the sources, as the article Is All of Twitter Fair Game for Journalists? by pointed out.

The rights of a journalist to quote a layman on their opinion of an issue, or embed their tweet on an online article, are questionable. Unfortunately, because Twitter and the online social sphere is relatively new, journalists and news organizations have yet to figure every detail out yet. One person quoted in the same article on mentioned that quoting a person's tweet in a story depends on "who's talking, how many people are listening, and what th
ey're saying," so that internet sourcing is on a case-by-case basis. Although I think this method will do for now, I think there needs to be a more solid, defined ethical guideline in place in order to protect average, every-day people from a possible questionable choice made by an ethically unsound journalist.

In this day and age, if you don't have multiple social media platforms under your thumb, you basically don't exist. As a journalist, it's even more important to be on the radar, in order to keep up on the fast-paced, 24/7 media cycle. If it's not on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, did it really even happen?

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