Social Role

Social Role Week – 12 Citizens as Journalists

This week we are focusing on the responsibility of citizens in the viewing and understanding of news.  While journalists hold a lot of the responsibility, in Blur chapter 8 “How to Find What Really Matters” by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the authors introduce the idea that the audience has more responsibility than ever: “Journalists still select [stories, act as gatekeepers], of course.  But their choices have less impact on us.  In the digital age, the front page of a Web site may easily have a hundred headlines… we consume the news now by topic and story, and less by relying on the judgement of news institutions to select for us” (149).  Luckily, there are many digital tools that have been developed to help journalists and citizen journalists verify information.  According to JournalistsResource.org, in “Tools for verifying and assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content”: “The speed of social media and the sheer volume of user-generated content (UGC) make fact-checking by reporters even more important now.”  Besides using fact-checking tools, citizens can also find trusted news outlets and reporters, as stated by the Blur authors: “An essential step in efficiently seeking important coverage is to find outlets and individual reporters who do great work on a consistent basis – a network of trusted sources or brands we can look to regularly” (152).

Verification of information is very important for audiences, especially when it comes to breaking news.  In “The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook” from On the Media on Sep 20, 2013, the host and guest discuss how audiences can make sure they are interacting with correct info: “Rather than counting on news outlets to get it right, we’re looking at the other end. Below are some tips for how, in the wake of a big, tragic story, you can sort good information from bad.”  Below are the tips they provide to citizen journalists:

  • In the immediate aftermath, news outlets will get it wrong.
  • Don’t trust anonymous sources.
  • Don’t trust stories that cite another news outlet as the source of the information.
  • There’s almost never a second shooter.
  • Pay attention to the language the media uses.
    • “We are getting reports”… could mean anything.
    • “We are seeking confirmation”… means they don’t have it.
    • “[News outlet] has learned”… means it has a scoop or is going out on limb.
  • Look for news outlets close to the incident.
  • Compare multiple sources.
  • Big news brings out the fakers. And photoshoppers.
  • Beware reflexive retweeting. Some of this is on you.

By using these tips, audiences can help to verify and avoid sharing out incorrect information.  Andrew Beaujon for Poynter.com reinforces this in “Every American needs ‘the critical thinking skills of a journalist,’ university says” by quoting James Klurfeld and Howard Schneider from a paper published by the Brookings Institution: “In the Digital Age, the ultimate check against the spread of rumor, pernicious falsehood, disinformation, and unverified reports masquerading as fact, will never be just more and better-trained journalists and professional gatekeepers. Instead, it will require a generation of astutely educated news consumers, as well as native producers and distributors, who will learn to be their own editors and identify for themselves fact-and- evidence-based news and information.”  This puts the responsibility on readers to verify the facts and encourage truthful reporting.

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