CLIPPINGS: Breaking news or BREAKING the news?

This post was originally published for Media Musings on the 18th May 2012

By Zoe Winther

Lately I’ve been wondering: have we traded accurate news for breaking news?

Thinking about my blog posts for this course, the role of social media in news reporting has constantly been on my mind in one way or another, and I find myself analysing media more than I normally would.

As I watched my Twitter feed a couple of nights ago, suddenly I was hit with an epiphany: in this world driven by ratings, we are constantly competing for breaking news, and are sacrificing accuracy.

Admittedly, it is my (guilty?) pleasure to get my news from Twitter, when I know I should be on the BBC website. Or reading a newspaper – remember those? With the actual hours for a deadline? Where they can actually fact check?

But there’s just something so appealing about finding out what is happening in the world in 140 characters or less. (I feel myself making a mockery of my generation, but I just can’t stop!)

Justin Bieber responds to news he is "dead"

We only have to look at the plethora of celebrity death hoaxes on Twitter to know we can’t believe everything we read. See: Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Hefner.

Perhaps more symbolically, blatant spelling and grammar errors are commonly published – something that infuriates me when I read, or any news publication with mistakes. It just shouldn’t happen, and it takes me back to a year ago when my News Reporting class mantra was: If the audience can’t trust you on the grammar, how can they trust you to get the facts right?

That saying certainly rings true. If such careless errors are made in spelling and grammar, how credible is the actual reporting?

Obviously, round-the-clock news television and the internet have shortened the news cycle immensely, and created problems for journalists to check facts and have their copy proofread.

Dan Levy of the bleacher report blames Twitter for problems with reporting:

“Twitter has ruined the pastime of patting a reporter on the back for breaking news. If you want to blame anything for how irrationally consumed media insiders have become about who broke a story, that blame goes to Twitter.”

Hip Instagram photo of a rubber ducky courtesy of juanpol via Flickr

Indeed, social media has created an ambiguity that extends beyond the scope of who is breaking the news, and blurs the line of what actually makes a reporter. Anyone can become a citizen journalist on their blog, break stories on Twitter (think the US Airways Hudson plane crash) or become Instagram famous for their kitsch photos.

But on the other end of the scale, without social media and mobile phones, how much would we miss? Amateur footage of an incident that otherwise would have gone unnoticed without a news crew around? The Arab Spring may have never reached the heights it did, and dictators may never have been overthrown without the humble mobile phone and Twitter. And along with that, journalists are using social media to discover stories and find sources.

Rich Brooks put it eloquently in his article for Social Media Examiner:

“We’ve moved from a passive news cycle—in which the journalist finds news, reports it and the audience consumes it—to interactive applications of news.”

Brooks also reported on trends found in the The Pew Research Center’s 2011 Annual Report on American Journalism:

  • In 2010 every news platform saw audience stall or decline… except the web.
  • For the first time ever, more people got their news from the web than newspapers… the gap for TV is closing, too.
  • Newspaper newsrooms are 30% smaller than in 2000.
  • Nearly half of all Americans now get some form of local news on a mobile device.
So what comes next?

How has your news-consumption changed with the rise of social media and online resources? Do you find news sources more or less trustworthy when delivered over social media? Where do you see the future of journalism heading as social media evolves? And have you found the irony in this post as there are bound to be grammatical errors?

This post was originally published for Media Musings on the 18th May 2012

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