Monday, November 14, 2016

Journalists vs. Social Media

Emma Schoonmaker

The onset of the era of technology has brought about immense changes for virtually every industry in the United States. People have been replaced with machines, online shopping rates have gone through the roof, and business moves at a higher rate than ever before. The most affected area, one could argue, is news.

The merger of news and technology has been monumental. For example, newspapers are a dying novelty that are being replaced with online publications. Online publications have even been evolving themselves, and are also becoming outmoded, but by social media.

The Good

Social media has made it easier for journalists and news outlets to share breaking news with their audience without drafting an article or waiting for the 8 o'clock news to come on TV. The technology revolution has brought news to millions of people much more quickly and efficiently than ever before.

News outlets have adjusted and benefitted from the social media wave in many ways. News professionals have had to reevaluate everything that they know about journalism norms and ethics create an entirely new toolkit for reporting news in newly chartered territory.

In his article "Twitter: Often First, Not Always Right," author Pete Cashmore described "the role of news organizations in the social era -- to establish trust, to verify, and to make sense of the chaotic flood of information we receive from social networks."

This transition from print media to digital media has allowed news organizations to practice the art of change. Our ever-changing methods of delivering news to our audiences challenges news outlets to come up with more modern and relevant content than ever before. However, these same outlets have struggled to adapt these new norms perhaps more than they have succeeded.

The Bad

Though there are countless pros to the implementation of social media in modern news coverage, there very well may be countless cons.

For starters, social media has begun to diminish the credibility of real reporters and journalists and elevate the trustworthiness of random social media users. Anyone on social media is free to chime in on any conversation that is occurring on the Internet. This makes it incredibly difficult not only for news organizations to keep track of what is going on, but also to keep up with it themselves.

Author Amanda Hess makes an important point in her article "Is All of Twitter Fair Game for Journalists?":

"Even the most private of Twitter users aren't just individuals, tweeting into the void. They're also members of ad hoc communities that coalesce around shared identities and they each have their own standards of communication that outside journalists might not understand."

In an effort to keep up with this world's thirst for information, news outlets have fought to stay relevant. Ordinary citizens have been able to beat journalists to top stories in the news, making it hard for an organization's reliability to stay afloat.

What's more is that social media can often skew the story in ways that make it untruthful. The Social Media & Blogging Guidelines by the RTDNA note that "the nature of live, breaking news frequently leads to reports of rumor, hearsay, and other inaccurate information." This fact adds "credibility" to the list of things that reporters need to worry about when using social media.

The Ugly

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the social media takeover is that news organizations cannot take it back once they report something.

Each outlet takes a different approach to the way they handle this: "Some outlets maintain traditional standards around verification... others choose a 'publish first, update later' strategy, which ensures massive web traffic but which damages reader trust if the story proves incorrect," said Pete Cashmore.

Journalists must continuously be reminded that what is said on social media networks cannot be reversed. Sure, you can delete a post on Facebook, but if it is a misreported story that causes a scandal, it will live on through other portals for as long as people can talk about it.

Therefore, news organizations are working harder than ever to train their correspondents in the art of social media etiquette. For example, Coca Cola's Social Media Principles tells their spokespeople "when it doubt, do not post."  The RTDNA advises their members to "remember that social media posts live on as online archives. Correct and Clarify your mistakes."

So, if we consider the good, the bad, and the ugly, there is a lot to be said about the way reporting news is changing. Is it beneficial or detrimental to allow our audiences such early access to our stories? Should we be encouraged or intimidated by the fact that our viewers and readers may leak a story before we do?

Social media will continue to be a catalyst for change in the world of reporting, and will continue to challenge us as journalists to seek the truth steadfastly and report it.

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