Fast or First? Being right or being first in Social Media reporting

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We have all read a badly written article or column in a tabloid, newspaper or online publication that has left us scratching our heads asking the question, “How was this even published?” In today’s society, everything revolves around the latest trend or being the first to spark off a trend and much is the same with news and its reporting.

Journalists are starting to pop up left, right and centre with social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to name a few. These platforms have given journalists a more effective and interactive way of reaching their audiences and followers but has also given rise to the existence of “overnight journalists”.

The aforementioned platforms give voices to individuals who are not necessarily trained or equipped with being journalists and reporters but hey, they have a live feed and a working internet connection so why not? Social media allows the broader public to stay in the know and be informed about breaking news and the latest trends but some of its users get ahead of themselves and that they now qualify as journalists because “it’s easy to put words on a page” – which is not the case! I am in no way trying to imply that social media users shouldn’t have their say but rather leave the reporting to actual, trained journalists.

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Another issue that has reared its ugly head within the realms of social media is ‘clickbait’. These are stories that have been created and published with the sole purpose of attracting a reader’s attention, luring them to a specific web page and generating a large number of readers through the use of either catchy or intriguing headlines. Sound familiar? These are stories or so called “reports” that are not likely to be published further than these online websites and are circulated via social media which essentially serves as spam.

Clickbait stories generally contain numerous amounts of grammatical and spelling errors whilst containing fabricated “truths” with an inconclusive conclusion. By having a brief read of these stories these errors would be easy to spot much like when dealing with social media accounts who claim to be ‘in the know’ (ITK). Often we find a great deal of fault in the manner in which these accounts engage with their audiences as well as the structure of their updates.

Granted, a journalist as well as media houses make mistakes from time to time but with these self-proclaimed ITK sources and ‘social media journalists’ the focus is all about being the first to break the news – and they like to remind you by using phrases like, “You heard it here first” or “EXCLUSIVE”. It is one thing to advertise and promote your brand (or yourself) but social media journalists tend to oversell which removes a bit of their credibility, or lack thereof.

Social media journalists and clickbait aside, what frustrates me about the idea of faster being smarter is how careless people can be when trying to get their messages across. Well known, accredited journalists tend to lose the plot over the speed at which they deliver their stories and updates via social media. The slightest misspelling could lead to the reading of a story being completely different and ultimately a retraction. Not a good look for the journalist or their publication.

Gone are the days of traditional news where we would have to wait for the prime time news bulletin or tomorrow’s newspaper but with that era of news reporting came the guarantee of a top quality, polished news product. This unfortunately is not always the case when dealing with social media reporting as a whole.

With this new era of journalism and news reporting, professionally trained journalists (and aspiring journalists) need to adopt certain ethical approaches to ensure that they always deliver on their basic job description – telling the news. As a journalist, you need to make sure that you inform your readers, listeners or viewers first and foremost. Obviously there are deadlines that need to be met but that does not mean that you have to be careless in and with your work.

The question of ‘fast or first’ is an ethical one that can be unravelled when considering the ‘Golden Mean’ ethical issue. “It is suggested that journalists take a lesson from Aristotle, who argued for practical experience and theoretical substance. Aristotle’s “moral mean”; is recommended as a moral compass that will serve journalists who seek to be virtuous and avoid both defective and excessive practices.” It is a simple one in actuality, rather take the time to do the job well or don’t do it at all – leave it to the real journalists.

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There is however, an ethical approach that helps social media reporters justify their actions and mistakes and this is known as the ‘Categorical Imperative’. This ethical approach looks at and deals with evaluating motivations for one’s actions. A lazy reporter would rather try to justify his/her laziness than account for it, take it on the chin and ensure that it does not happen again.

It is the finer details that come with the territory of being a journalist that help distinguish between an “overnight journalist” and a professionally trained journalist. These intricate ethical questions and approaches are more likely to be consulted and evaluated by a good, professional journalist as opposed to the ‘lazier’ social media reporter. In conclusion, the end products of the two will inevitably end up in the same cyber sphere but the quality of the content is where the reader will see the difference between the question of ‘fast or first’.

 

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