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Journalists need to play curator role, not simply repeat social media

Michelle Hassler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism professor and former Lincoln Journal Star state editor, said journalists should take more of a "curator" role.

Michelle Hassler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism professor and former Lincoln Journal Star state editor, said journalists should take more of a “curator” role.

It often seems as if the news media value being first more than they value being right.

The growth of social media and increased demands for journalists to post news quickly raises the question, “What should media’s role be?”

In coverage of the Boston bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, for example, the news media put out stories immediately, and most were completely incorrect.

The Slow Journalism Company, however, is hoping to change that.

Slow Journalism produces a magazine called Delayed Gratification, which takes stories “after the dust settles” and publishes them, according to its website. Each issue compiles stories from weeks or months earlier that tell what actually happened in a news event less the hype and bad reporting.

Michelle Hassler, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and former state editor at the Lincoln Journal Star, said that this is a good opportunity for people to see the whole event.

Hassler also said journalists need to back away from this “get-it-first mentality” and play more of a curator role.

“If journalists could step back, explain the issues and put them into context,” Hassler said, “people could understand the full scope of the story a lot better.”

A more productive method of covering the issues would be to explain the context and outline all sides, she said, and highlight what is new with those stories.

According to Slow Journalism, today’s “ultra-fast” news tells audiences what’s happening in real-time but rarely tells what it means.

“We take time to do things properly,” the Slow Journalism Company wrote on its website. “Instead of desperately trying to beat Twitter to the punch, we return to the values we all want from journalism – context, analysis and expert opinion.”

In the past 10 years, newsrooms and journalism, as a whole, have completely changed. Hassler said a journalist is now required to not only report, but also to tweet, blog, photograph, video and often self-edit. Journalists are sometimes evaluated on their speed than they are on their writing and reporting skills.

Someone will always be faster in getting the breaking news to the wide audiences. But not everyone has the training, resources and capabilities of constructing a well-researched article that explains the issues using a wide variety of sources and documents. And that’s where journalists, good editors and effective websites and print editions come in.

Yes, news media need to put a focus on their digital presence in today’s world, but they don’t need to put a focus on being first over effectively informing the public. Journalists are trained watchdogs not simply live tweeters. In order to remain relevant in today’s world, news media need to offer the public a product it can’t get via social media.

_By Natasha Rausch

  1. November 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    This is a great blog post about a very relevant topic for editors and reporters alike. I think newspapers often have the mentality that in order to compete in a culture of fast-paced information sharing and the idea that everyone with a social media presence can be a journalist, the stories they’re telling are at times error-ridden. At the very least, breaking news stories often lack the complete accuracy that establishes a newspaper as a dependable and trusted source of information. I loved when you said, “journalists are trained watchdogs not simply live tweeters,” because I think journalists sometimes forget that aspect of their role in society–arguably their most important one. In order to truly compete in today’s information age, I think the news media needs to establish itself as a TRUSTED source of information. If accuracy didn’t take a back seat to the race to be first, then newspapers could become the only source for the true story, whereas independent information sharers would merely whet an audience’s appetite for the truth. I thought your interview with Michelle was well-done and added considerably to the story.

  2. December 2, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I agree that being first is not always best when it comes to reporting the news. You gave very clear examples, with the coverage of the Boston bombing and the Sandy Hook shooting, of information that can become skewed when reporting in the moment. I think a journalist has to decide what information they know is 100 percent correct and what they are inferring. If a journalist knows something is correct then they should report on that. I don’t think all journalists or media platforms should be like The Slow Journalism Company that you mentioned, though. The company is significant and it’s a very important source of information, but moment-to-moment information can also be helpful and empowering if a journalist can discern what is accurate to report on a scene. Even describing the layout, scenery and commotion around you can be a very helpful and accurate piece of information to give to the public. Saying someone is likely a murderer, for example, is not what journalists should be reporting or “helping” the public believe.

    Media and journalists get so much reprimand for being inaccurate. I think it’s up to our generation to turn that around, whether that be by having a publication based on “slow” reporting or only reporting clear, known facts.

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