‘New media’ erodes practice of quality of journalism

For most people there is a defining time or moment in their lives during which they realize the career path that is right for them. For me, there was a defining moment during which I realized that journalism is not the career path I wish to follow.

It was Aug. 10 of this past summer and I had just listened to a teleconference regarding the steroid scandal that defined Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) football over the summer months.

Within 15 minutes of the teleconference’s conclusion, three different people e-mailed me links to “articles” on the same issue I was writing on posted on Tsn.ca, Theglobeandmail.com and Thestar.com.

I use the term “article” lightly because what was posted on those usually reputable news sources’ websites was nothing more than a summarization of the press release sent out by the CIS following the teleconference.

And therein lies everything that is wrong with journalism today.

With the growing prominence of “new media” such as Twitter, Facebook and even the Internet in general, journalism is no longer about quality of reporting, digging for the story behind the story, or even getting all the facts right. With the non-stop news cycle that the world now demands, all that matters now is how quickly a news source can regurgitate some form of information online.

While the notion of reporters fighting to be the one to break a story or be “first on the scene” is nothing new, in the past, this idea would never hurt the actual reporting of information. But “new media” journalism has taken this fight to new heights by introducing a new player into the game: regular, everyday people.

Apparently the only requirement you need to be a journalist these days is the ability to set up a Twitter account or a blog and because of this; actual news sources have been forced to favour the speed of their reporting over the quality of their reporting. After all, how embarrassing is it for CNN or the Globe and Mail to be beaten to a story by @JaneylovesBieber?

The first major problem created by the expansion of the so-called “Twitter-verse”, and other proponents of the online information barrage, is that press releases have become news.
With the pressure to get something posted online, reporters don’t have time to fully investigate the information behind a press release and as a result, what gets published is nothing more than a re-worded press release.

This ultimately gives the spokespeople control over the news.

Quick access to information has become
so valued that reporters are no longer
able to question and investigate.

Therefore, the public receives only the information that a company or organization wants to release.

What’s even worse than summarized press releases replacing real stories is how easy and acceptable it has become to plant media hoaxes. Since Twitter has come to prominence it has been the breeding ground for numerous widespread hoaxes. Whether it was the “balloon boy” incident or the apparent death of Gordon Lightfoot, Twitter has made it easy for just about anyone to spread false information.

The problem is that legitimate media outlets who feel the pressure to get a story – any story – posted on their website have begun to pick up on these hoaxes.

If reputable news sources weren’t forced to react to stories fast enough to keep up with the Tweets of “citizen journalists,” they could have pretty easily figured out these and the many other stories that have been reported were hoaxes. Instead, the “new media” approach of “report first, ask questions later” won out with no fallout for media outlets that put out false information.

Nobody really wanted to call CNN out on the “balloon boy,” because every media outlet knows that they post stories to their website without thorough fact-checking and have just as much of a chance of running a story that doesn’t even exist.

The media has always had a responsibility to get to the bottom of stories, present and give the public the real information. Simply re-writing press releases and treating the tweets of celebrities and athletes as news is not real journalism.

News outlets everywhere need to stop trying to compete with the speed of social media sites because it’s a losing battle.

Where legitimate media have the advantage is in the ability to dig deeper and get the story behind the story. Journalists everywhere need to get back to those fundamentals, rather than trying to save their jobs by making a Twitter account.