“Crisis of Credibility”

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Having Stephen Buckley of the Poynter Institute give his perspective on the digital future of  journalism was extremely insightful. As he talked about news in today’s social media and citizen-journalism landscape, he repeatedly mentioned the term “crisis of credibility”. He explained that as news consumers become flooded with a wealth of available information (whether through blogs, or Facebook or websites), it is becoming increasingly harder for legitimate journalism entities and individual journalists to keep a reputation of integrity.

How do we know who to trust in the digital space? …. especially when it comes to social media like Twitter?

I couldn’t help but think of two prominent Twitter-related cases within the past month: the report of Joe Paterno’s death while he was still alive, and false tweet from actor Rob Lowe about the retirement of Peyton Manning.

source: http://www.penn-olson.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/twitter-bird-confused.jpg
source: http://www.penn-olson.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/twitter-bird-confused.jpg

While each of these spawned media reports, internet buzz, and trending topics, one thing remains true in each case: these false rumors were quickly debunked in favor of verified reports. What this indicates to me is a somewhat comforting feeling in today’s “crisis of credibility”. Verified information will always find its way to the top. The internet has merely given a wider platform from which to speak. Before the internet days there were no fewer people out spreading misinformation, they just didn’t have as many outlets from which to spread rumors. With Twitter and Facebook, “rumor-spreading” has been given a global platform. In the end, however, rumors are still rumors. While the instantaneous access to media spawns the ability to mislead, it also spawns the ability to correct reports in an instant.As a blog post by Ken Mueller about the Joe Paterno story states:

Fortunately, the social web is incredibly self-correcting. While rumors can erupt online, they are generally corrected almost as rapidly. This doesn’t excuse the dissemination of false, or unverified information, but it is comforting”

We need to realize that with the wider spread of the internet, false information will come out. It’s inevitable. We aren’t used to it yet, but the internet and journalism are still relatively young in their relationship. What we can work on is working to combat and correct false reports as timely in as timely a manner as possible. Integrity and verification will find a way through the mess.




One Comment on ““Crisis of Credibility””

  1. J

    I love the line in there that says “Verified information will always make it to the top.” I think it sums up the credibility crisis.

    When it was reported that Whitney Houston died, I just saw things that said “reports say” or “according to sources.” I didn’t believe it until I saw on CNN (I think it was CNN. It might have been NYTimes.com) that the AP reports that she died. The AP is a credible source that checks and double checks and probably triple checks. My reaction finally was “well if the AP says it, it’s probably true.”

    I also want to point out that Bon Jovi was reported dead but still very much alive too.

    And by the way, why is an actor (Rob Lowe) tweeting about an athlete’s retirement? Like I’m actually going to believe him because he has a history of being right (I’m sorry I can’t get through that with a straight face).

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