Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Role Of Journalism

What is it that makes something journalism? Is it simply the reporting of facts? With the trend of social media reporting, journalism needs to be seen as something more than just sharing numbers or information.

The role of journalism is a means to report, investigate, and discover information about events and occurrences. Yet it goes much deeper than that initially seems. Journalism has a mission, as ProPublica explains, "to expose abuses of power and betrayals of public trust." It is a commitment to give the facts, as true as able, and present a story in an illuminating light. This sort of story requires some amount of investigation and a bit of crafting to weave together all the pieces into one coherent story to illustrate for the public what is going on.

http://www.qrisp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Social-Media-Icons-300-x-4001.pngSocial media reporting is a newer trend, where journalists tweet out stories or share them in smaller posts on various social media sites. One of the bigger events of social media reporting was on the trial of Oscar Pistorius, which was covered and live-tweeted by BBC's Andrew Harding. He gave information as it came, live, during the courtroom proceedings. In something unprecedented, facts from the courtroom floor were making waves on Twitter moments after they happened.

However, is this journalism? Social media reporting is surely giving the facts as best able, yet they don't hold together to form a full story. Harding had the information and shared it with the public, but instead of as a journalistic piece of work, it's consumed in sound bytes of text limited to 140 characters. This is not representative of the full story that was unfolding in the courtroom and instead, provides reports out of context of each other. To me, it doesn't seem that it is journalism when the audience of the piece has to gather all the data together and form their own story from it.

There is further tension between the concepts of ethical journalism and citizen journalism that takes place. Because social media is rife with fiery comments and opinions, it can be very difficult to find the blurred line between fact and opinion when doing something like live tweeting or social media reporting. Harding stated to the BBC about his tweets that it wasn't "to say [he] couldn't pass comment on [the trial]" when talking about how well the judge was handling the case. While Harding has clear journalistic experience, for citizen journalists that take to the social media WiFi waves, it can be much more difficult to discern what is opinion or fact.

For instance, during the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath, while news organizations were gathering facts and checking things through, the Internet grouped together on social media sites Reddit and Twitter, according to Newsweek. With all the best intentions, they ran ahead of the news outlets often times, but were not fact checking or verifying information. From this, false accusations were made about the culprits of the bombing, stalling and creating numerous problems. Once those sorts of accusations and bits of information go viral, it takes some effort and incredible time to rectify the error.

This is the problem with social media reporting. We're given the facts in sound bytes of information and not the full story. We already see how much quotes are taken out of context from larger pieces. But when a tweet has no other context surrounding it except what is in that tweet, there is a risk for that to go viral and spiral out of control. Without the anchoring of a narrative or story weaving the information together, social media reporting is just that: reporting, not journalism.

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