SOCIAL MEDIA AND NEWS: CREDIBILITY IS ON THE LINE
Social media is giving journalists more ways to distribute news, but it can lead to costly mistakes in the rush to get the facts to an audience. Newsrooms are slashing staff and editors should not be the first to go. Those of us who are journalists know how important credibility is to the profession. Asking for verification before publishing or reporting the “facts” of a story is vital. If a news organization or reporter loses the trust of their audience by distributing erroneous information, their audience is no more. In this new era of journalism, a time when social media allows for up to the second, play-by-play details of an event, some of the most experienced and reputable news organizations are not fact checking. In a rush to be the first to send out a tweet, or post a blog, mistakes are being made, people are being hurt, and reputations are damaged beyond repair. The problem effects the entire media industry.
Businesses are looking for ways to save money and are forced to make cuts in their workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2009-2011 unemployment report shows 6.1 million workers lost jobs they held for at least 3 years (2012). Headlines on mediabistro dot com, a website devoted to jobs in the media, are dismal. Now is not the time to be parsimonious when it comes to editorial positions within a newsroom. In a time when news blasts out to an audience with only seconds between the last key strike and the click of the “send” tab, editors are more important than ever.
SLOPPY ONLINE JOURNALISM: EXAMPLES
Where are the checks and balances in this new, instantaneous world of news? The answer seems to be nowhere. Examples of sloppy online journalism are abundant. Recently, when Neil Armstrong died, NBC reported Neil Young passed away. The network removed the error from its website within minutes. On the night of January 21st of this year, the student-run website Onward State, which is affiliated with Penn State, incorrectly reported Joe Paterno had died. The original tweet has been deleted. Here’s a screenshot of one of the retweets that went out that night.
Joe Paterno, while seriously ill with lung cancer, had not died. Even so, once the original story had posted online, it didn’t take long for the error to take off in the media. Within minutes, CBSSports dot com, The Huffington Post, People dot com, and other media outlets also reported the news that the famed football coach had died.
Another example of erroneous reporting originates in early January of 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and many people gathered to listen to U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords speak at a public event. Among those in the crowd was a gunman who opened fire, shooting Giffords in the head. NPR broke the story and reported online and on-air that Giffords died in the attack (CNN U.S., 2012). Giffords survived the attack.
NOTHING NEW, BUT MISTAKES ARE GETTING WORSE
Mistakes are nothing new in the news industry. There has always been a rush to gather facts and be the first to break the story. In the process, mistakes have and will continue to be made. Thanks to the Internet and social media, those errors are spreading faster and farther than ever before. Newsrooms must do a better job of managing this new media environment.
There is a lack of fact-checking tweets and other stories that are hitting the web at a moment’s notice. A survey conducted by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard provides some proof of the widespread problem. The study found that only half of 155 U.S. newspaper organizations required copyediting their online news. When copyeditors are removed from the equation, fact errors can make their way into circulation. The larger newspapers, with circulation above 10,000, reported never copyediting online stories (Maier & Russial, 2012).