Social media’s role should be to bring information to us quickly. Traditional media’s role should be to bring information to us accurately.
That distinction came to mind recently after I witnessed the horrendously inaccurate traditional media reporting about the Boston Marathon bombing, which was often fed by an apparent desire to keep up with social media rumors.
Chris Martin of The Poynter Institute, which trains traditional journalists on ethics, had this to say about news reporting from Boston:
“No one remembers who got this story first. They only remember who got it wrong.”
Sadly, newsrooms mired in traditions of the 20th Century are focused on avoiding being “scooped” and, in so doing, are no longer taking the time to fact-check properly. Ignoring the reality that they can’t have it both ways – and hence the need for a definitive distinction between their role and the role of social media.
And while I can talk all day from my bully pulpit, the only way the public will ever clearly understand that distinction is if social media influencers and highly respected traditional journalists (a) buy into the idea and (b) start walking that talk.
Journalists, in particular, need to stop putting speed before fact-checking. They need to return to making credibility their most important asset. In today’s world, a Walter Cronkite could not exist as a credible source, because he would be fed unverified information on a regular basis, information that would come back to bite him. And that’s just sad.
Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and craigconnects and a strong supporter of the work of Poynter and others involved with improving journalistic ethics, is fond of saying “I want news I can trust again.”
Me too, Craig, me too.
Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc.
[Author’s Postscript: On a contracted basis, I am the Project Director for craigconnects, hence my knowledge of Craig’s involvement with this topic. However, this blog post comes from my experience and my heart – it is not part of my responsibilities for this client.]