Ethics

Posted: March 2, 2011 by seanoneill34 in Uncategorized

When did the world of journalism become more preoccupied with getting the story first instead of getting it right?

Being a media consumer at a higher level for only a few years, I can’t answer this question. But what I do know for the most part is that the general public — who we are out there to service, let us not forget — doesn’t give a damn about who’s breaking the most stories, who’s working the hardest, and who has the most credibility within media circles. What they care about is a few facts that are correct and moving on with their lives. They don’t have time during their busy days to question the validity of the news that they are consuming.

From what the old journalism horses say, the protocol in newsrooms is that no story goes to press without two sources on a story, thus protecting the reputation of the paper and author of the story. With the threat of legal action at all times if something is misrepresented or slandered, then people are out of work and money will be flushed down the toilet.

But what if today’s sources are people on Twitter? Now, I’m not retracting a word I said about Twitter in my last post, but it does illustrate the dangers of the world we live in that I have mentioned.

Take in case the reporting of the death of Pat Burns. He was prematurely put under ground this past September. Once the news hit Twitter that he was going to visit family in Quebec, word spread that he was going to spend his final days, and then it was reported that he past away. The Toronto Sun picked it up and it eventually gained steam. Pat Burns called TSN hockey reporter Bob McKenzie personally and told him that “I’m not dead, far fucking from it.”

Sadly for the terminally ill Burns, he wasn’t far from death, and succumbed to cancer in November and he was finally laid to rest. But the egg on the media’s face will be remembered by media consumers as fondly as the coach was for hockey fans.

If I were running a news organization, a code of conduct is necessary at all times when dealing with Twitter and other forms of social media. The instantaneous nature that makes Twitter so much fun is also so terrifying. So while it is difficult to take a deep breath when a tweet runs across the screen, my reporters will be demanded to take a deep breath when anything pops up on the screen as serious and important as a death. They will not be able to respond to it until they get independent verification themselves that they event has taken place. I’m all for irreverent, quick, funny tweets about any issue under the sun (which wannabe comedians like me have been feasting on with the ongoing debacle that is Charlie Sheen) but when it comes to legitimate news, journalistic hats have to remain on.

As for breaking the news, from what I can tell, the only pressure to be first is within the newsroom. The public doesn’t care, they care about reliability. Only the news junkies — which would be the minority of the population that consumes any time of information — really care about this stuff and frankly if they’re keeping any sort of track of which organizations are breaking the most stories, they need to get a job and life. So in this world where news is changing, the pressure to be reliable and correct must begin to supersede the need to be first. And the only way I think this can change is through honest dialogue within not just journalism groups like our class, but within the major networks and organizations that dictate the information that the public learns. Only when they change their ways will it become more accepted throughout the medium that this is the way to go in this new age.

 

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