The Internet & Journalistic Integrity

The Internet is a handy place.

We can Google our most ridiculous questions, find pictures of cats in all sorts of hilarious situations, and write our innermost thoughts to groups of people who will actually read them. With the Internet, we can read the news, the latest romance novel, and watch a Rob Schneider movie (just kidding!).

For the intent of this post, I want to concentrate on our use of the Internet as a way that we get the news. It's but one of the many things we do online every day, but it is one of the most important. News updates are the way that we see the world and events that are happening around us. In real-time, we are seeing the world change around us. Imagine if we had live-tweets of 9/11. Would our textbooks include screenshots of individual tweets, Facebook posts, or photos shared on blogs? Will they include those things in the future?

I've thought about this often, especially since we've elected Donald Trump as President. His use of Twitter will likely be a hot topic when discussing the election in years to come, as well as the use of social media in election campaigns in general. However, with the increase in citizen journalism, I must also think about how likely it is that the average joe-- like me-- could play a part in history just by being at the right place at the right time.

With the rise in citizen journalism, which is only so much more accessible with the Internet, how has that affected journalism?

Everyone can do it

With a smart phone, anything is possible. For example, I can live-tweet about a show thatI am watching while I watch it as part of the second-screen experience. If I were seeing something revolutionary or unique, there would more than likely be a hashtag# to follow the news and to gauge other users' opinions and experiences with the matter.

However, this has also given rise to fake news and inauthentic sources of information. With the lack of boundaries presented by social media, it is not uncommon to see the circulation of fake or inaccurate sources by people that believe them to either be true or possibly true. This is problematic for obvious reasons, but the biggest one that I find is that it is an unwarranted obstacle for citizens' right to the truth.

I would be lying, though, if I said that I didn't find the shear speed that information travels and becomes updated fascinating as well as necessary in this day and age. We're so busy during the day, multitasking to get it all done, that I don't see how else the information would be available to such a wide audience. Not to mention that sometimes on-the-scene citizen journalists can pick up on smaller details that major news outlets may miss initially, whether we like to admit it or not. Eyewitness accounts are crucial to news stories, and sometimes it is less intimidating to recount your experiences to a blogger than a well-known reporter. It seems like a necessary evil at this point.

Upon the realization of the negatives of possibly keeping digital citizens from the truths of the world around them, I have to admit that the problem will probably not go away without regulation that could jeopardize the democratic nature of the Internet (which I am against). This is why, as I have said before, we have to realize that times are a'changing, and it is now our duty as engaged consumers to go beyond out comfort zone to learn more about the stories that we're interested in. That brings me to my next point.

It Is Enabling Us To Come Together In (Sometimes) Dangerous Ways

For example, a story from (hopefully not a real site) repubsunite.org might detail why Donald Trump is a good President. There are numerous comments from fellow users who, like me, also believe in the right to unquestionably carry assault rifles and pay women less than men. Obviously, I'm comfortable here, and I feel understood. I am, therefore, much more inclined to believe what I read here than I would at liberals4hil.org, where there users' views do not align with mine. What I am seeing now is that this is where the process of research usually ends. We aren't seeking opposing viewpoints, and popular news sources have been demonized by polarizing figures in the media, so the world has become a confusing place for those of us actively seeking the truth.

This is also enabling people with destructive--and yes, I mean destructive-- views to come together and cause actual harm in our communities as well as to prevent innovation for the future. For example, let's point out the fact that there are actual white supremecists in our country right now who feel comfortable gathering publicly, making people feel unsafe. The 24-hour news cycle publicizes their gatherings, and then more come, because they realize that they can form an actual community.

We're Demanding More Interactivity

We like our news to have all the bells and whistles. We want photos, videos, further reading, everything you can cram into a story to put us there. As people living in the digital age, it is becoming more and more common for us to engage in immersive experiences. This is hardly surprising, given that we live in a world with virtual reality. However, the news has always been...more serious than that, I suppose. The journalistic experience was only supposed to capture on-the-scene media. Afterwards, it's done. Occasionally there is follow-up with an interview or the like, but that is usually the end of it. It disappears from the 24-hour news cycle and loses current relevance.

However, journalism is trying to keep up. A lot of newspapers, which often produced a daily edition, have moved to online news and producing fewer print copies. Many of them are also short-staffed, especially with the need to stay current within a 24-hour news cycle. To be the reliable hub for news, they have to prove themselves, establish credibility. Doing this with a small staff is challenging, and can often miss the mark.

Check out this incredible work of journalistic art by the New York Times. Impressive, isn't it? It really puts you in the story. This is a standard that I, as a Millennial, can get behind. Too bad it's pretty much unattainable. It took sixteen people to create. That's a lot of manpower for a story that, no offense, will expire. Surely we can fund this, right?

We're Less Likely To Pay For It

Actually, while we aredemanding higher quality work, we're also refusing to pay for it. Less and less people are getting newspapers, and most people will not spend money for paid content online, probably because they realize that they can find information elsewhere just as easily. They are willing to sacrifice quality to get to the information that they want easily. Blame the economy, blame citizen journalism, whatever you want, but that's the harsh reality of it all.

For good journalism to flourish in the future, professionals must find a way to reliably tell news with built-in checks and balances. Also, the public must be educated and open-minded. For this reason, grand societal change must occur. This, my PR friends, is where we come in. It’s not enough for us to allow this mob mentality surrounding every issue facing America just to meet a bottom line. It’s on us to work with others in media to find concrete solutions to a problem we helped to create.

 

Having Trouble Identifying Fake News?
I'll Help You Out!

(Some) Fake News

http://www.theonion.com

http://www.infowars.com

http://www.yournewswire.com

http://www.rilenews.com

http://www.worldnewsreport.com

http://www.empirenews.net

 

Fact-Checking

https://www.snopes.com/category/facts/fake-news/ 
Use Snopes, for starters, to fact check popular news stories. Here is a very real example. It will give you everything that you need to know about the news you're reading.

 

Here are a couple more:

http://www.factcheck.org

http://www.politifact.com

 

Now get out and be responsible digital citizens!