FOR THE WEEK OF OCT. 06, 2008
iReport reminds us: Don't believe everything you read online
Opinion pieces in the newspaper aren't confined to the Editorial page. Columnists, for example, are paid to opine. Can you find examples of opinion sneaking into news stories. Check sports -- reports about a local team's performance will often include a writer's opinion.
Check your newspapers' blogs to see what kinds of stories are covered there. What constraints do you think should be put on bloggers who blog for Mainstream Media outlets?
Find a news story that quotes sources for information. How do you know the sources are valid? How would a reporter validate information provided by a source -- even a named source. Are there any stories that quote unnamed sources? Under what circumstances would it be OK to use unnamed sources in a news story?
An anonymous blogger on CNN's iReport.com, a community journalism site, broke a story last Friday under the headline: "Steve Jobs rushed to ER following severe heart attack." As other Internet sites jumped on the unverified story, concern over the health of Apple's CEO sent Apple's stock tumbling about 11 percent in about 10 minutes.
iReport's logo includes the motto: "Unedited. Unfiltered. News." The site even includes the disclaimer: "CNN makes no guarantees about the content or the coverage on iReport.com!" And, of course, this time the heart attack report was completely false.
Apple denied the rumor within minutes after it surfaced. CNN quickly removed the post and concerns that someone was trying to manipulate the price of Apple stock sparked an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Apple suffered minimal damage as its stock price recovered.
But the incident has called into question the validity of Community Journalism. The Wall Street Journal said the post carried more impact because it appeared on a site operated by CNN. The speed at which information and misinformation can be spread over the Internet provides a strong opportunity to manipulate facts, spread falsehoods and wreak havoc.
Mainstream Media (MSM): The argument from traditional journalists is that MSM (Mainstream Media or traditional media such as newspapers) have editors, a copy desk and fact checkers -- a system in place that ensures getting it right -- as well as standards that eschew unnamed sources and require multiple sources in reporting. MSM outlets lay claim to a convention of unbiased, objective reporting that strives to present all sides of an issue. That's what gives MSM an aura of trust and accountability.
Citizen bloggers and community journalism: Proponents of blogs and community journalism insist that bloggers, unfettered by those "outdated" constraints, are more free to publish and can publish more quickly. Since the Blogosphere is actually a group effort, mistakes can be corrected or debunked quickly by the group, more details can be dug up by the group and additional questions can be posed by the group.
Who's right? That depends. In a lot of ways, both are right. The systems can coexist and both can be abused. Few newspapers today have not at least experimented with blogs. And bloggers have broken important stories and have certainly added to the flow of information. However, very few blogs do any original reporting and most just recirculate and comment on coverage done by MSM.
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