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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

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Government tries to define ‘journalist,’ sparks debate in the industry

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

What is a journalist? That doesn’t seem like a difficult question, but it’s one that people ranging from government officials to news consumers have been asking.

A bill pending in Congress aimed at protecting journalists from having to testify against confidential sources in court attempts to define who a “journalist” is. The definition in the Free Flow of Information Act is “a person who, for financial gain or livelihood, is engaged in journalism, including a supervisor, employer, parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of such a person.”

The government's new definition of "journalist" leaves out citizen journalists, bloggers and unpaid writers. Many professionals disagree with this definition. Graphic credit: Freepress

The government’s new definition of “journalist” leaves out many people who engage in new forms of journalism, including citizen journalists, bloggers and unpaid writers. Many people in the journalism industry have explored the      definition for themselves. Graphic credit: Freepress.net

This definition sparked a debate in the journalism community. While some acknowledged that it proficiently covered professional and student journalists,  others argued that it needed to include the new wave of citizen journalists, unpaid bloggers and Twitter users. Many journalists and activists decided it was time to take matters into their own hands and define the modern journalist for themselves.

In response to the bill, Jonathan Peters, a media lawyer and professor at the University of Dayton, and Edson Tandoc Jr., a Fulbright scholar at the Missouri School of Journalism, conducted a study to see how professionals define “journalist.” After interviewing dozens of professors, lawmakers and actual journalists, they found that the general definition among professionals was very similar to the government’s definition; “someone employed to regularly engage in gathering, processing, and disseminating news and information to serve the public interest.”

Peters disagreed strongly with the findings. “The definition delivers a fatal blow to the people engaging in many new forms of journalism,” he said in an article on PBS’s Mediashift. He argued that these people will still feel compelled to keep providing news, without the guaranteed protection traditional journalists will have under the shield law. Peters also said the narrow definition discourages and limits innovation in the industry.

A number of citizen journalists and bloggers have also voiced their disappointment in the government’s definition.  Some professional journalists, like Lisa Carricaburu of the Salt Lake Tribune, have said that one should be required to have some specific training and expertise to be a credible journalist. Others, like Josh Stearns of the Free Press Campaign, argued that instead of defining a journalist, the focus should be on defining and acknowledging “acts of journalism,” without regard to who writes them.

For me, the biggest issue with including citizen journalists and bloggers in the definition of a journalist is credibility. Sites like CNN iReport are well on the way the to finding a solution to this — allowing citizen journalists to post stories to be edited and fact-checked by professional editors. I don’t think we should include citizen journalists and bloggers in the definition yet, but I think we will be able to soon with more experimentation.

Ultimately, the definition of “journalist” is based on personal beliefs. Because of the constantly shifting and evolving nature of the job, it’s difficult and nearly impossible to create a permanent and satisfying description. However, educated and friendly debates may help us move toward finding a fair definition for the time being.

_By Jordan Kranse