When you come from a small town like I do, it is inevitable that everyday you are going to have to face some sort of false gossip. Whether it’s one of the hockey mom’s spreading the latest neighbourhood gossip, or the teens at the high school backstabbing each other with heartless rumours, gossip is an everyday standard in small town living. Where does it all stem from? Someone taking a story WAY out of context. Welcome to small town living: Home of the never ending gossip.
Something that has made gossiping worse is social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Now, with a click of a mouse (or in some cases in the palm of your hands) rumours and gossip can be posted all over the world wide web for everyone you know to see. Ouch.
Here’s the connection with journalism. Over the weekend, I spent an evening at Dolan’s listening to a great band playing the classics and dancing the night away. On the way home, our cab stumbled upon 3 cop cars and their bright flashing lights sitting outside the Student Union building. Crowds of people were swarmed outside. The cab driver told us that someone was probably crossing the street and car neglected to stop at the stop sign…and well…you can imagine what he said happened after that (cabbies always come up with the best case scenarios!) So easily I could have whipped out my Blackberry and tweeted everything he said claiming it to be true. However, after spending 18 years growing up in a small town of 900 (1500 after the amalgamation), I’ve learned not to jump to conclusions. Things can blow up in your face when you do that, kids.
I believe that this jumping to conclusions happens in the media world on a daily basis. Someone sees an occurrence that they think the world wide web should be aware of and tweets about it, or updates their Facebook status. It’s then retweeted, passed to other friends and texted to one another. Some journalists go to Twitter or Facebook to get their news stories. However, they should be conscious of this nasty tendency of gossiping and not take what was posted at face value. Get your background info, talk to the officials, make sure what was posted actually happened.
Journalists and media organization today are obsessed with the need to be the first source to inform society of the breaking news. Therefore, steps are skipped. Important steps like checking the legitimacy of your source and having sufficient evidence concerning your claims.The lines between true and false information are constantly being blurred. Journalists need to get back on track and remember what is important and required of them as a journalist. Get your facts straight. No excuses.