The Internet Age in Journalism

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Journalists have to know how to use the internet if they're going to be successful today. But when they start relying on the internet for all their facts, things get messy. So when is the internet useful, and when is it harmful to your story?

Catherine Wylie, a journalist in training and writer for The Graduate Times, talking about the importance of being internet savvy as a journalist. For much of her life she was internet-phobic, but now is an avid blogger and Twitter member. As a journalist, the internet is an easy way to publish work for the masses and find information. But the information found is not always reliable.

So how can you make sure your information is reliable?

First, stay away from Wikipedia facts. As the story of Shane Fitzgerald, a college student who posted false quotes by French Composer Maurice Jarre who had recently passed away, shows us, Wikipedia isn't reliable since it can be edited by anyone. If you insist on using Wikipedia, you should check out the sources at the bottom. These may be much more reliable and contain much of the information found on Wikipedia.

Second, just because it's everywhere on the internet, doesn't mean it's true. Tweets from the Arizona shooting of Gabrielle Giffords claimed the congresswoman was dead. News channels picked up on these tweets and other reports of her death and reported it across the nation. Soon it was confirmed that the Congresswoman was actually alive and in surgery at an Arizona hospital, even though it was widely reported across the internet an TV.

Last, don't use the internet as your only source. Sure, it has a lot of good information, but the internet shouldn't be the only source of information you ever use. Interviews, newspaper, TV shows and many other things can have a positive impact on the story you're writing and add depth you wouldn't have gained from using the internet alone.

The internet is an important tool in journalism if you use it correctly. The internet can help you get your work out there and amass fans and hopefully a job that pays well. But if you use it incorrectly and report false facts, it can also ruin your career. Use the internet wisely and you can save yourself from many mistakes.

Photo Credit: Jcarranzz, WikiMedia via Creative Commons. Sérgio Savaman Savarese, Flickr via Creative Commons.


Journalists not Checking Facts

College student Shane Fitzgerald used the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia in an experiment to show just how dependent journalists are on the internet as their source. Fitzgerald posted a fake quote on Wikipedia supposedly said by Maurice Jarre, a French composer who had recently passed away. After posting the quote, Fitzgerald was surprised to find that not only had various blogs and websites used the quote, but mainstream high- end newspapers as well included it in their versions of the composer’s obituary.
It surprised me that so much of the media depended on such an unreliable source. While I understood how low key bloggers could made the mistake, I would have thought the more upscale and bigger newspapers would not be able to afford making the same one. These papers affect many more people and it should be important for them to get their readers accurate and dependable news. Situations like this may cause them to lose readers and promote the image of their newspaper as being unreliable. While, like in this case, the mistake may not have been very important to many people, I believe a newspapers' reputation is still hurt because in the end it shows their carelessness and laziness when it comes to checking the facts. I think this experiment is a good wake up call to journalists out there in regard to checking facts. It also raises public awareness on being able to identify which source "got it right."

Photo Credit: Britannica via Creative Commons


Protests Escalate in Egypt, Journalists Arrested

Egypt proves to be a dangerous place for journalists once again with the latest round of protests against the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Eight Egyptian journalists were arrested last week after participating in an anti-government protest, bringing the grand total of arrests up to 860.

Egyptian security forces have been deployed to control the rioting crowds through the use of tear gas. So far, five people have been killed. The Egyptian government has also been restricting access to websites such as Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to cripple the protest movement.

The European Union has publicly called on Egypt to respect their citizens' rights to protest, but the response from the Egyptian government has been disappointing. "No provocative movements or protest gatherings or organization of marches or demonstrations will be allowed," MENA reports the ministry as saying. "Immediate legal procedures will be taken and participants will be handed over to investigating authorities."

Protesters are angry about soaring food prices, a lack of jobs and an oppressive government, among other complaints. Despite the strong negative response from Mubarak's ministry and the danger from Egyptian security forces, protesters continue to take to the streets in thousands.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, James Buck.


Not an Orwellian Reality

In 1949, Orwell provided us with a viewpoint on the destructive potentials of technology in his book 1984 (look to the Sparknotes summary if you need a refresher). It has been in the forefront of our minds ever since, taught in many high school English classes and rarely missed by anyone with a four-year degree. In it, Orwell describes a dystopia in which the Party has total control over all of London and eliminates any possible action by the free press (while doing many other damaging things to the imagined society).

Even though the internet is still a scary thing to some of us, evolving so quickly and permeating our daily interactions as thoroughly as it does, most of us realize that it won't result in a scenario like that of 1984. With the arrival of WikiLeaks on the journalism scene, we have seen the beginning of the impossibility of that kind of control. The big names in journalism and the major sources for news still have the ability to distort what information we receive at the base of the news pyramid, but the selective news articles and resources that we have access to today are growing rapidly. New sources of information, not filtered through large controlling companies, are everywhere now. The internet has made journalists out of everyman. Wikileaks provides an outlet for "whistleblowers," journalists and citizens who see that something is being obscured or covered by the main press outlets. This information is now at our fingertips, and as a result, happenings all over the world are becoming more transparent and apparent.
WikiLeaks is also changing journalism as we know it because it provides free and easy sources for the larger media outlets and for consumers of news. Investigative reporting won't take nearly as much work for the big names since many secrets have already been published by WikiLeaks-- but there is also the fear that people won't buy a newspaper or subscribe to an online journal because the information is already logged somewhere else for free.
Instead of Orwell's prediction that this kind of leaked information would be shut down by government implements, companies are taking special precaution to make sure that whistleblowers cannot be identified and prosecuted. This is definitely not the policing that Orwell imagined, and we're all glad to see he was wrong.
For more information WikiLeaks and the new model for journalism, check out this article from the New America Foundation.
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