There is a lot of controversy lately regarding the role of social media in journalism. Traditional journalistic standards require a process of vetting and fact-checking that is not required in social media. With the popularity of blogging and iReporting, anyone can report on a topic or event at any time.
This has both positive and negative consequences. News stories can break faster with more minute-to-minute detail than before. We no longer have to wait for a reporter to show up on the scene and transmit his broadcast to us; witnesses can instantly upload images and video to the internet.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan is a good example of this. However, the negative aspect is in the lack of fact-checking that occurs in social media. Anyone can post anything they want and claim that it is a fact. Someone could have uploaded images from Japan but claimed that they were in Taiwan, causing panic and confusion for many families.
Historically, an editor would check the facts of a story before releasing it to the public. Now that is often not the case.
Who or what will replace editors in the brave new world of social media? Unfortunately, the public must be more wary than ever of what they consider ‘news’. Most blogs, iReports and social media sources should be considered potentially no more reliable than a tabloid newspaper running stories of UFO sightings. Traditional news sources, such as the Wall Street Journal or ABC news, will still need an editorial staff to sift through the facts before releasing the information to the public.
In fact, this profession may become more important than ever. While people are interested in blogs, opinions, and iReports, they also still want the hard news. As social media continues to expand, I think that consumers will need to become savvier than ever at recognizing what is ‘real news’ and what is rumor, lies or speculation.
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Read more about the future of social media on this social media blog.