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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Fact Mongering Online - New Media Reporting

I have started reading a book edited together by Julia Hobsbawm (Britain's first professor of Public Relations at the London College of Communication). The book contains a number of 'wide-ranging and thought-provoking essays' and explores various issues involving journalists and new media. I hope to keep you up to date on my thoughts regarding the opinions and observations expressed in this book.

In this blog I'll be talking about 'Fact Mongering Online' which was written by Emily Bell. She has worked for The Observer and The Guardian, which included setting up 'mediaguardian.co.uk' in 2000 before becoming 'editor-in-chief of Guardian Unlimited in 2001 which won her a number of awards (including a Webby for Best Newspaper on the World Wide Web).

In this essay, Emily describes the 'limitless connectivity' of the internet as 'the single most empowering publishing technology since Gutenberg invented the printing press'. However, she felt it was vilified 'as a home of the con artist and the paedophile'.

She claims that for many years in the 1990's the internet had a bad image, seen as somewhere that made the 'untalented' rich, and that lead to crashes from sleep deprived 'internet addicts'.

This shows (to some extent) why the transformation from newspaper to news online has been such a gradual process. It has taken a lot of time to establish a sense of trust into what is published on the net.

However, there was a clear plus - the ability to spread news across the world very quickly, but the danger of course was 'Chinese whispers' - the idea that reports would be altered and slowly distance from the true events.

Emily claims that the posting of 'false facts' would affect our perception of truth, and make it difficult for those online to decipher which is which.

With old media, the truth could be assured simply because of the source - a newspaper. Although some would argue that the old media lead to a one-dimensional view, and now access online provides alternate sources and news providers and give us a chance to hear broader opinions and reports.

Emily then speaks about 'electronic news' not necessarily being as dangerous as old media. An electronic reported can get edited and you can apologise for mistakes almost instantly, and while that news is accessible globally, the damage wouldn't be any greater than a printed copy distributed to just one nation, where you have to wait to correct yourself.

Although, the expanding world of the internet means that errors need to be corrected even more urgently because of technology such as RSS feeds, this means that reports become instantly accessible to so many people.

Emily also mentions a phrase for journalists to remember, it was made by journalist Dan Gillmor –

‘There is always someone closer to the story than you.’
Dan Gillmor

And this quote makes many points in my opinion. One suggesting that as journalists we cant rely only on our opinions and what we see, it's always important to speak with those closest to the story so that we get a completely honest and truthful opinion and viewpoint.
Another(that Emily points out) is that with publishing online now being so accessible, somebody(bloggers) with more insight than you will be able to post thier views with more detail, emotion and insight. Often these people will not be driven by money, but simply an enjoyable hoppy.

One question that needs to be asked is whether a lot of 'citizen journalists' are merely reporting the same as professional journalists, or are they really providing an alternate view. Even if they are - is it truthful and backed up by facts and sources? Thier are millions of blogs online, it's difficult for them to stand out, and the fact that many do it as a hobby suggests that the information is not neccessarily deeply sourced. Is this the advantage that the mainstream news reporters have?

Mass communication is the future of news reporting, the likelyhood of incorrect reporting circulating is obviously more common, but the ability to correct it has also become a lot easier.
Looking at ths transfer to focussing on mass communcation and the online world, Emily Bell ends her piece by stating '...there is no reason why truth should be the casualty of this particular revolution'.

Special thanks to Emily Bell and Julia Hobsbawm


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