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Mistrust of the media can have harmful effects on the nation

November 12, 2014 1 comment

Most Americans don’t trust news media.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, only 40 percent of those polled expressed a “Great deal/fair amount” of trust in news media, tying 2012 for an all-time low.

In an article in the Washington Post, Chris Cillizza points out the problem with this: “The natural result of that loss of faith in the news media is for people to seek out more partisan sources of information which they can ‘trust’ because the information being put out by those sites jibes with their particular point of view.”

Cillizza refers specifically to online news, which is certainly important in the age of blogs “reporting” news with a distinct bias, but this trend can even be seen in more traditional forms of media, like television news.

screen shot 2014-06-10 at 10.01.52 am

A study by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that Fox News is the most trusted source of news on television among 25 percent of all Americans and 53 percent of Republicans.

The problem with people seeking only news that matches their current opinions is obvious: if citizens can’t see controversial issues from more than one side, discussion will replaced by arguing and no progress will be made.

Many reasons exist for this distrust of media. One key factor, though, is the number of inaccuracies reported in an industry that is becoming more focused on getting the story first than on getting it right.

When many stories are broken on Twitter or Facebook long before an established news outlet, it’s understandable that the media would want to publish something quickly and make corrections later—especially because it is easy  to correct information online.

But no matter what direction social media takes news media as a whole, it’s important for national discourse that Americans believe they can turn to news organizations for accurate, unbiased information, even if it challenges their own views.

So take the time to get it right.

-By Preston Thiemann

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

October 16, 2014 2 comments
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

Accuracy critical for journalists to regain standing

October 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Do you believe everything you read?

Public confidence in the Mass Media since 1997

Public confidence in the media since 1997

Public trust in the media has steadily fallen over the last decade.  A recent Gallup poll showed that public trust in the media is slightly up in 2013 from last year’s all-time low, but still at a dismal 44 percent.  Not even half of Americans believe what they are reading.

Part of that has to do with the negative connotation associated with journalists.  When people think of the media, they often think of sites with strong biases like Fox and MSNBC.  I tell people that I want to be a journalist and they tell me how annoying they think journalists are.  A recent controversial opinion article in the Daily Nebraskan filled my Facebook and Twitter feeds with numerous “This is why I hate the DN!” updates.

When I thought of becoming a journalist I thought of changing the way people thought.  I wanted to expose problems and get people to care about a particular topic. I wanted to provoke  change.  I thought journalists were supposed to be respected for their knowledge.  But as recent polls show, most Americans don’t believe journalists have that wealth of knowledge.

Technology has provided a variety of resources for fact-checking and accuracy.  When you type something into a Google search, numerous results convey all sorts of opinions.  Data that previously took hours to scour  is conveniently posted on a single website.

All of these things should allow reporters and editors to be absolutely precise and represent both sides of a story fully.  But it’s almost become a joke how inaccurate some news sites are.  A satirical article by The Onion mocked a student reporter’s success at getting right an astounding five whole sentences.  Even a prominent paper like The New York Times has a significant number of corrections in each day’s paper.  Some news organizations fail to correct all of their mistakes.

If a reader sees an error in a newspaper’s story, he or she will be less likely to trust anything else from that newspaper.  Even a tiny error can make a reader think twice about whether he or she believes a controversial story is true.

Reporters and editors have the technology and resources to put together amazing news stories, and many of them do.  But as newsroom cuts and 24-hour deadlines loom, some inaccuracies slip through the cracks.  Most of the work journalists publish is fair and accurate.  But it’s hard for the public to remember that when they notice a glaring error.

For the media to regain the public’s trust, it’s all about going back to that Journalism 101 class.  Journalists and editors have learned from the beginning how to double-check all of their facts and put their biases aside when writing an article.  NPR’s ethics handbook gives a checklist for its reporters and editors when they are working on a story to accomplish their ultimate purpose of “pursuing the truth.”

Journalists can only establish accuracy when they can begin to tell the full story.

_ Angela Hensel

Fake photos of Hurricane Sandy circulate through social media

November 5, 2012 1 comment

As Hurricane Sandy approached the center of New York, social media allowed the rest of the nation to see the natural disaster through powerful images.  Photos from the storm and flood were all over Twitter and Facebook feeds. As these indescribable photos captivated us, we retweeted and reposted for the rest of our friends to see. Although many of these photos were real, how many of them were fake?

A viral photo of Hurricane Sandy supposedly approaching the Statue of Liberty had been altered.

Photos actually taken during Hurricanes Isaac, Irene and Katrina were passed off as Hurricane Sandy pictures.  Beyond not being current, many were altered in Photoshop. Yet they were retweeted or reposted without verification. A viral photograph purportedly showing Hurricane Sandy descending in New York was really a photo from a thunderstorm in Manhattan in 2011.

The Atlantic started to verify Sandy photographs that had gone viral on many social media sites. Luckily, journalists can use many tools to prevent the spread of manipulated images.  TinEye.com finds where an image came from, how long it has been used and if modified versions exist. Istwitterwrong.tumblr.com is cataloging fake photos, making it another great reference for journalists. It includes another viral photograph of soldiers standing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during Sandy, and it mentions that the photo was retweeted by The Washington Post. The tweet was deleted because the photo was actually taken in September, not during Sandy.

How can journalists work harder to avoid this?  Hopefully, The Washington Post has learned a valuable lesson with images. How many mistakes does it take news organizations to lose all credibility? To avoid retweeting a fake photo on Twitter it is important to look at the account that you are taking it from. Journalists should always be suspicious of new accounts and make sure that they analyze the Twitter feed. Some good questions to ask are: What does this source usually tweet about? Where does this source say they’re located? How often are they using social media? It only takes seconds to check the weather reports. Craig Silverman of The Poynter Institute emphasizes that it’s important to reference  weather sources, maps and even existing images  before posting an image.

Remember, as journalists being right is more important than being first even with breaking news. It is just as important to verify a photograph’s credibility as it is to check facts in a news story. Especially in a tweet, mistaken information will spread quicker than any correction. Twitter, TweetDeck and Hootsuite do not offer any type of correction function — yet. Put simply, if  photo can’t be verified, it shouldn’t be reposted.

By Kelsey Newman