Social Media and Real-Time Reporting

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Our in-class discussion on ethics, new technology and the rise of mobile news on Monday reminded me of an interesting analysis I read a few weeks ago. After several big-time news stations spread misinformation with the break of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Mark Coddington, a writer for the Nieman Journalism Lab, wrote an article exploring the issue of using social media to report “real-time” news.

While some argue that breaking news has always been messy (take the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” misprint, for example) and that social media reporting is no different, others are saying that the push to be first in the instantaneous world of social media is threatening the quality and truth of journalism.

In a particularly powerful quote, Eric Deggans of the Tampa Bay Times said that blaming the Sandy Hook mistakes on the stressful environment of being the first to report the facts “sounds like a forward-looking acceptance of social media’s impact,” but that it’s really just “embracing a path which could destroy the news industry.”

Unfortunately, I seem to agree. Time and time again I’ve read a tweet or Facebook post with breaking news only to find out later that the majority of the details were wrong or have been retracted.

Though social media and the rise of digital news has given us 24/7 access to an unparalleled amount of information, it’s also put an immense amount of pressure on reporters to be “first.” Deadlines now are measured in minutes and clicks, not hours and days. Now more than ever it seems reporters are sacrificing being right to be first. And can you really blame them?

So what can we do? Though social media should and can be utilized as a serious publishing platform, is there a way we can make social media reporting better? Should there be some sort of punishment for those who repeatedly abuse the facts? Or is this even an issue at all?

3 Comments on “Social Media and Real-Time Reporting”

  1. Glad to hear your perspective on what just happens to be my thesis topic! 🙂 I would definitely agree with the amount of information and putting pressure on reporters. What we can do, or at least what I’m proposing in my thesis, is that journalists should continue to observe the SPJ Code of Ethics (for reference: and consider how what they’re reporting aligns (or doesn’t align) with what’s enumerated in the code. So for example, the three tenets of social media that I’m focusing on in my thesis are durability, verification and speed. Will what reporters are posting on social media a) hold up to the test of time/long-term when housed on the reporters’ social media profiles, b) hold up to comparisons to other posts regarding accuracy, and c) be published in a timely manner corresponding with the breaking news?

    Just because social media is new and faster than traditional reporting doesn’t mean that the ethical standards journalists are expected to live by should fly out the window. Definitely there should be punishment (whether formalized through the journalist’s news organization or informal damage to that journalist’s reputation or career) when a journalist violates the code using social media. This is a great issue, Nicole. Thanks for bringing it up (sorry for the lengthy comment – obviously I’m passionate about this topic!)

    1. Ah, I had no idea this was the core of your thesis–glad I brought it up! I agree with your point that we should continue to apply the SPJ Code of Ethics to social media. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that it has taken media companies this long to do so (or come up with their own social media “Code of Ethics.”)

  2. I think we can extend this issue not only to journalists, but to people in general. For my post I discussed the issue of oversharing. People feel the need to instantly post about their lives every second of the day, and read about others’ lives for the rest of it. There is something just a bit too Android for me in this concept. Can I please just look at the pretty flowers, instead of having to tweet about them? I sometimes don’t like how enormously connected our world is. I mean, it has amazing benefits, and I feel no disrespect for those (social media=Egyptian revolution), but I do think our society needs to take a moment away from it all to snuggle up with a book (or a Kindle) or go out on a date without looking at the phone once!

    It can be refreshing to look at the world outside the digital realm and simply connect with one’s basic humanity. And the same applies to journalists!

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