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Social Media Replacing Journalism?


Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists ...

Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists Social Media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is a fantastic post on Media Bistro’s blog, 10,000 WORDS by Meranda Watling.  “Infographic:  How Social Media Wins At Breaking News” speaks volumes of how news consumers get their breaking news and how much that has changed over the last decade.

Watling opens up by asking her readers to try and recall how they learned of the attack on Sept. 11.  She sums up by acknowledging that most people found out through television, contacted their relatives by phone, if possible, and then likely read the newspapers the next day and followed up with a weekly news magazine.  She points out, we didn’t hear of it through social media, like Facebook or Twitter because they weren’t invented at the time.

Watling continues to discuss how major news stories spread through social media, using the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other stories as examples.  Her article discusses the very real change that is taking place in the news industry with respect to the advancement of social media becoming one of the major sources of news for people.

Watling concludes her article with a graphic done by Schools.com, that referenced a Pew Research Center study titled, “What Facebook and Twitter Mean For News.

I don’t think it comes as major surprise to those who already use social networking on regular basis.  The implications however, of social networks becoming a serious player in the news industry is something to consider carefully.  Especially, in an age of citizen journalism, when blogging and other forms of news dissemination is exploding on the frontlines of journalism.

Before you get too excited and think you can now depend on getting all of your information from sites like Facebook and Twitter, note in the graph where it states that 49.1% of people have at some point heard breaking news on social media that turned out to be false.

Ah, the new-age, old problem of citizen journalism.  Verification.  It’s wise to not believe everything you see or hear on these sites, but with a little digging, you can pretty quickly decipher the validity of the breaking news.  Watling touches on the issue of trust and verification of reporting in her blog post, but leaves it for another day.

On the School.com website that displays this graphic, I don’t know that I would go so far as to agree with the notion that social media is replacing journalism.  I don’t think that’s the case.  I do think, the news industry is figuring out how to capitalize on social media sites, and while anyone can become a news producer these days, not everyone follows the guidelines and “rules” of traditional journalism.  So, social media is not quite there yet.  Could it be ten or twenty years from now?  I think that is a very real possibility.

The graphic below is the one produced by Schools.com.
Social Media: The New News Source
Courtesy of: Schools.com

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So You’re a Journalist. Prove It.


Meranda Watling wrote a post on MediaBistro‘s blog, 10,000 wordswhich addressed an interesting topic.  How do you prove you are a journalist?

Watling writes, “Alan Greenblatt explains in his story today that increasingly, government officials are asking him to prove his official journalist status before granting him interviews. Tides have turned and now it’s not just the reporter doing background research, but the sources are backgrounding the reporters.”

Greenblatt is a correspondent for NPR.org, and wrote about his recent experience of being asked to prove he is a journalist.

In her blog post, Watling brings up some very interesting points, she writes:

  • What type of proof is enough?
  • What if you’re not working for an agency that hands out press badges?
  • What’s stopping you from printing up your own press badge and business cards?
  • It’s not like you apply for a license to be a journalist and can hand out your license number to verify with the state, as electricians or plumbers do. (I hope nobody gets any bright ideas.)
  • And it’s not like medical professions where you need a certain degree and set of training to perform the job; you simply do not need a degree in journalism to prove you know how to ask who, what, when, where, why and how, and then write it up accurately.
  • Plenty of good reporters didn’t learn those skills in the classroom.
  • And plenty of bad reporters have a degree but still didn’t learn to apply those skills well.

I happen to agree with her.  Watling also mentions the recent court case involving a blogger, the judge ruled the blogger was not a journalist.  So how is it determined that someone is a journalist?  According to the judge mentioned in Watling’s article, it would be someone who followed these guidelines:

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.””

You can read the opinion of the court here.

Currently, the only things I have to show someone who questions my validity as a journalist is, my diploma, my business card and my Society of Professional Journalists card.    (Needless to say I don’t carry my diploma with me.)   So what if I fall into one or more of the categories she lists above?

I also shiver at the idea that an institution for licensing journalists could be created.  Since when do we need a license to practice our basic freedoms, like speech and the press?

Watling also states, “Fortunately for me, as a working journalist and blogger, I can check off each of these seven in some way and when appropriate (i.e. I’m not going on background on most stories, and sometimes my blog posts are just an aggregation of pieces I think people should read). Whew. But what if you didn’t attend journalism school (No. 1)? What if you’re an opinion columnist/blogger whose job it is to be one-sided (No. 7)? What if your job includes curating a mass of content into a product that helps pull together a story from disparate sources (No. 6)? What if you’ve never been affiliated with a MSM news agency but instead set up your own news outlet (No. 2)?”

I’m not sure there is a simple answer here.  Of course following the ethics of journalism and knowing the laws associated with the press are two very important things among many others, but there are loopholes.  I agree with Watling, that it’s a kind of “New Media vs. News Media“, and all of this New Media is blurring the lines.  There are a lot of great aspects of citizen journalism, but also some negative ones.  Fact-checking and verification of sources etc, are both very important in journalism.  I’m afraid much of that is lost on many “citizen journalists”.  Yet still, there are a lot of “citizen journalists” out there that bring to light information and news that might otherwise be lost on the larger media groups.

This is a fascinating area for discussion.  While many legacy news organizations struggle to find their footing in this digital age, there are other, newer organizations bursting onto the scene.  How this plays out in the future, and what develops as the definition of a journalist or journalism will be something to watch.

This isn’t a winner-takes-all situation.   I think there is plenty of playing room on the field.