Faster fingers mean fewer fact-checkers.

Posted: March 1, 2011 by Hilary Paige Smith in #7 Ethics

How’s that for alliteration?

It sounded great. It was quick and it was quirky, sort’ve like a lot of headlines you see on the web.

Nowadays, journalists are so concerned with being the first to publish information, they neglect to make sure the information is factual. We’ve been seeing this more and more in the social media realm. The best, and most commonly used example is the plight of Gordon Lightfoot who was viciously murdered via social media last February. As a joke, someone falsely tweeted that Lightfoot was dead, and the tweet was quickly retweeted and spread across the internet like wildfire. The false news quickly made it’s way into high-circulation papers like the National Post and Ottawa Citizen and, later that day when it was determined the Twitterverse was retweeting a hoax, all papers had to write embarassing retractions.

All this because someone got too excited on Twitter and just had to be first. It would have been as simple as the Citizen calling Lightfoot’s management/record company/agent and getting their facts straight. But no, they had to jump into this headline race.

This presents major problems for reliability, accountability and truthfulness. Two of the Principles of Journalism are “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth,” and “Its essence is a discipline of verification.” Nowhere in the Principles of Journalism, looked to by many journalists the world over, does it say “Journalism’s main objective is to be first.”

I think being up on the latest news is incredibly important, especially for media organizations, but I would rather read a story written well, rather than one hastily thrown together and pushed into the social media sphere for hits alone.

In my search for the 10 Principles, just to verify I was getting them correct, I stumbled across this. One of the first principles of “online journalism” I’ve ever seen. Now I can’t speak for how accurate this information is now (hey, I warned you), as it was compiled in 2007, but here it is. The Post’s 10 Online Principles.

I find their list to be a bit contradictory. They strive for accuracy, yet they also push for scoops and to ensure their readership doesn’t stray elsewhere.

Does anyone else have any thoughts?


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