November 17, 2009
By Michael Omenazu
The advancement of various technologies, such as the wide availability of video making capabilities and development and use of social networking sites, has led to the birth of a new age of unprecedented access to information and creation of the 24-hour news cycle.
Subscribers of specific news organizations or Twitter followers can instantly be updated on the status of peace talks in the Middle East or even the type of toilet paper their favorite pseudo-celebrity has just selected at the supermarket. In a society that seems to highly value the “famous” the latter may be more of a priority.
This is most clearly illustrated in print media shifting to an online form. With record declines in profit, well-established papers such as the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer have moved to the Internet.
Unlike ever before, individuals now have an unparalleled amount of power not only over what news is being presented but how it is presented. This creates concerns about the level of quality over the increased quantity of news the average person is subjected to, specifically on the university level.
College is an academic and social arena where students are both enlightened about and become aware of relevant issues. Students are encouraged to critically think about various subjects within an analytical context. The methods of how this concept is accomplished has drastically transformed recently.
Students who previously picked up paper copies of local or campus newspapers now receive their stories within the short duration of a click and download. More importantly, they are just as easily able to share what they read in a blog posting. The transfer of information becomes problematic as this process becomes as effective and accurate as the children’s game Telephone.
In a March 27, 2008 article in the New York Times, Brian Stelter discusses this trend. “Younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well—sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks.
“And in turn they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter—reading “The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com—with a social one,” he said.
Other students share similar sentiments. On October 7, 2009 the Journal, the University of Illinois at Springfield’s weekly newspaper, ran a full front page story of an alleged hate crime that took place on campus. However, the few days in between when it happened and when the story was published were full of controversy.
Multiple Facebook statuses of UIS students featured varied opinions about what may have happened. Some outraged over what was being said in casual conversations screamed that those involved had been misrepresented. Campus dialogue clearly indicated a state of confusion among the student body.
Details of the incident found in the police report, such as quotes from those accused of committing the crime were printed in both the State Journal-Register and The Journal. However, some used the social site as a medium to further question the truth of the report and essentially the paper’s journalistic honor.
In the Journal’s code of conduct, adapted from the Associated Press Managing Editors Code of Ethics, 1995 edition, there are various articles detailing demands of responsibility, accuracy, integrity and accountability. It begins by outlining “Truth is the guiding principle for all staff members of the Journal.”
However, such standards become blurred in an online setting. The problem could be the consequence of the shift to an electronic form, symbolic of a change from a tangible and concrete source to abstraction that can easily be manipulated.
UIS Associate Professor and Communication Department Chair Mary Bohlen specializes in news writing and media law and ethics.
Having experience as a reporter for the United Press international Wire Service, Bohlen points out the importance of college students getting the news by saying, “It affects them. It affects their every day lives.” However, she thinks that the news may be “a lower priority for college students because they are in an insulated environment.”
She also counsels students to “get a wide variety of sources. Don’t just only read Facebook. Read credible news sources to make sure news is accurate.” For college journalists she advises to use the tools their reading audience uses because while Facebook and Twitter may not be the best sources they do have their place.
Newspapers have long been the public’s source of historical events that revolutionize both society and its future, yet society is now greatly transforming the future of journalism. However in this process, the demand for truth, accuracy and integrity are essential and eternal principles that transcend print and online media.