This has been an extraordinary week if you are a Clay Aiken fan. We have had reports of a fabulous concert in Las Vegas, a great appearance on TV’s hit show, 30 Rock, and wonderful pictures of a beautiful baby. However, we have seen the internet rumor-mill work in its most ugly way, passing out false rumors as fast as possible. Watching some sites on the web maligning Clay made me stop and think. Why is this so easy to do and does it seem to be much worse lately?
These questions led me to research the following article. It certainly does not answer everything, but it does make a person realize that this happens all over the net and that perhaps we all can be a part of the solution.
One of the greatest benefits of online journalism is its ability to reach millions of people almost instantaneously. But the pressure to keep news current and online within minutes of an event’s occurrence can jeopardize the accurate reporting of even the most ethically-conscious journalist.
Because there is a proliferation of news outlets, including bloggers, web sites, cable/ satellite television, and web broadcasts, there seems to be a feeling of urgency to get “the” story 24 hours a day. As the pace intensifies, so does the pressure to cut corners.
Adding to the pressure is the public’s increasing demand to see news as it happens. When an incident or news item occurs, the event will reach radio-listeners, web-news readers, and international bloggers within hours, if not minutes. In the race to be number 1, many newsmakers incorporate unsubstantiated rumors into their reports.
Accuracy means getting the facts and context of a story right. This is a fundamental norm of ethical journalism. Inaccurate reporting undermines important news stories and can mislead the public. Though accuracy is not the only ingredient for truthful reporting, it is nevertheless indispensable.
Accurate reporting has never been easy because journalism is deadline-driven. But today, accuracy is further challenged because of the internet medium.
Laziness, lack of rigor, and other bad habits complicate the ethics of accuracy and speed. In the interest of time, journalist who report press releases as news do an ethical disservice to the populations they inform.
Polls taken by news corporations show that the public wants speedy information, but also expect the reports to be as accurate and as verified as possible. The public wants a balance between speed and accuracy.
On May 5, 2009, Robert Cringely wrote an article on InfoWorld regarding the rumor that Apple was going to buy Twitter. In his sarcastic style, he had some interesting comments about internet reporting and rumors. He suggests that sites just can’t leave rumors alone. He jokes that the following is what rumor mills say about stories…”We don’t believe this story is true (and we’ll believe practically anything). But we’d never let our ethical standards get in the way of a juicy story, especially when somebody else is beating us to it.”
In the “wonderful” world of unfiltered Web reporting, there is little accuracy. It is difficult to find sources who actually know what they are talking about. It’s all about speed.
Mr. Cringely says;
“The Net has always been a festering source of bad information……….Take thousands of blogs written by untrained reporters, add pressure to publish 24/7, toss in a decreasing pool of professional journalists who feel compelled to keep up with the amateurs, and shake vigorously until nauseated. What you get is a recipe for spreading deliberate disinformation on a wide scale.”
Perhaps it’s the general public that needs to reexamine their need to have news immediately. However, there are some “reporters” who need to have their rumor-spreading licenses suspended.