Getting Back to Basics: Social Media and Accuracy

Amanda Short, Audrey Schaulat, Christian Rich and Jen Todd were all contributors to this story. 

In the media, if you’re not first, you’re last.

Unless, of course, you’re JUST PLAIN WRONG…

The issue:

Journalism is available and ready for anyone, by anyone in unprecedented ways, particularly through consumer-fed social media platforms.  A 2010 CNN study showed that 43 percent of people used social media to share news online.  Users can access their information instantly through the platforms, but recent events have proven the unreliability of the social platforms as a viable source for information.

How has this affected journalism?

Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s death is the most recent example of news organizations and the public taking news found on social media at face value.  Craig Silverman of the Poynter Institute argues with regards to Paterno, “There’s no glory in being first.

Unreliable news surfacing online is nothing new, as information has been misused since the rise of organizations such as Wikipedia.  John Seigenthaler, a nationally acclaimed journalist and assistant to Attny. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, was linked to the deaths of Robert and John F. Kennedy on the website by an anonymous writer.

The incident raised questions as to the reliability of user-generated sites.  In an editorial written in USA Today, Seigenthaler said,

“And so we live in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them.”

Social media spurs this process further.  Death reports are common on Twitter: NewsOne came up with its top 11 fake deaths on twitter in 2011.  Ronnie Ramos of Indiana University’s journalism program cites multiple issues within the Indianapolis Colts football organization’s handling of the firing of coach Jim Caldwell.

What can be done to maintain credibility?

Media and consumers face reliability issues daily, and they are not going away anytime soon.  However, Geneva Overholser of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard says in “What is Journalism’s Place in Social Mediavalue-focused journalism will be the key for maintaining its integrity.

Social media are not so much mere tools as they are the ocean we’re going to be swimming in—at least until the next chapter of the digital revolution comes along,” she said. “What needs our attention is how we’re going to play roles that bring journalistic values into this vast social media territory.”

Click to view our live-blogging of John Seigenthaler’s Belmont visit.  Using Cover it Live, we were able to aggregate tweets, quotes and wisdom from an amazing journalist.

Thank you for taking the time to view this presentation. All feedback is welcomed and appreciated.

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