First on the Scene

In recent years, as social media is increasingly used by citizen journalists and bloggers to report breaking news, the professional news media has placed greater emphasis on haste than accuracy (Carter, 2013).  Journalists and reporters scramble to be ‘first on the scene’ and, in the process, neglect to properly vet sources and check facts (Carter, 2013).  As a result, mistakes are made.  During the Boston Marathon bombing, for example, a number of news outlets (including such high profile organizations as Fox News, CNN, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press) mistakenly reported an arrest when, in fact, the suspects were still at large (Carter, 2013).

In the era of social media, where news travels at the speed a witness can type 140 characters, the public has grown to expect instant access to information.  Are we, then, to blame for this phenomenon?  Or are the professionals who have studied journalism and the media accountable for the information they put out?  I would argue that journalists have an ethical obligation to accurately report the news despite outward pressure for immediate gratification.

In the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, industry leaders direct journalists to “[t]ake responsibility for the accuracy of their work” and “[r]emember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy” (SPJ Code of Ethics, 2014).  Regardless of the motivation, it is a violation of journalist ethics to spread inaccurate information.  Rigorous research and fact checking are what separates the professional, trained journalist from the citizen journalist or amateur blogger.

As intelligent consumers of news, we should demand accurate and thorough reporting.  This should include clearly identified sources, links (in the case of online content) to supporting sources and documentation, and well-researched background information to provide context (Buttry, 2010).  I would rather see an environment where citizen journalists and amateur bloggers break the news and professional journalists weigh-in later to provide analysis and confirm details.  Ultimately, it is the journalist who is responsible for the content they provide and, as professionals, they should strive for the highest ethical standards.

References

Buttry, S. (2010, November 7). Journalists’ Code of Ethics: Time for an update? Retrieved March 3, 2015, from https://stevebuttry.wordpress.com/2010/11/07/journalists-code-of-ethics-time-for-an-update/

Carter, B. (2013, April 17). The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest. Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=1

SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014). Retrieved March 3, 2015, from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

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First on the Scene

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