RTDNA 2014

Social Media Putting Pressure On Journalism

Social media, particularly Twitter, is testing journalistic standards by pushing out large amounts of often unconfirmed information that reporters are expected to compete with. An RTDNA panel discusses how journalists can protect themselves from getting swept up in the frenzy.

With social media testing journalism, newspeople have to maintain the industry’s core virtues — fairness, accuracy and the like — to maintain ethics in reporting, a group of industry leaders said Wednesday.

“We don’t like to be told that Twitter kicked the mainstream media’s butt. I think that gets to journalists,” said Internet Broadcasting’s Scott Libin, chair of the RTDNA ethics committee. “But we need to be aware of that and develop our own standards, which includes being right even if it doesn’t mean being first.”

Libin’s comments were part of an RTDNA panel discussion on ethics in the era of social media held Wednesday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas.  RTDNA is in the process of revising its code of ethics, which has not been updated since 2000.

Libin, along with Michigan Radio’s Vince Duffy, a past RTDNA chairman, and WDEL-AM Wilmington, Del.’s Chris Carl, the current chairman, said it is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists to maintain ethical reporting practices, largely because of the pressures imposed by social media. 

Social media, particularly Twitter, is testing journalistic standards by pushing out large amounts, though often unconfirmed, information that reporters are expected to compete with, they said.

Libin said the problems that arise from social media — from the abundance of unconfirmed reports, to the demand on reporters to have the correct information first — are not wholly new, but journalists need to protect themselves from getting swept up in them.


“Each of these technological developments brings a different twist on what turns out to be old challenges,” he said. “But the stakes are higher.”

As Duffy says, “There are all kinds of new ways we can screw up.”

Duffy said it is incumbent upon newspeople in traditional media to teach younger reporters how to apply long-held journalistic standards — confirming information before reporting it, vetting sources and others — in a new media world.

“I want to believe that skepticism isn’t something that’s passing with our generation,” Duffy said. “If young people are not getting that in J-school or come to you from another discipline … than it’s our job to teach them, and a bit of a failure on our part if we don’t,” he said.

Duffy said he doesn’t believe errors in using social media, like re-tweeting unconfirmed reports, are occurring “because reporters are unethical but because management is asking them to do too much too fast.”

“There is no time left for reporters to do reporting or verification,” he said.

Libin, however, said he believes practicing journalistic standards is not some “inherent gift” people have, “that people are either ethical or they’re not.”

“It is something that we need to work on, we need to study,” he said.

The change, he said, is that social media means journalists today don’t have the option of doing serious reporting on their own terms, which used to include taking time to do it right. He said journalists used to have the luxury “to be arrogant” and tell consumers who weren’t happy with their work to get their news elsewhere when “the dirty little secret of our industry was there was nowhere else to go.

“Now everyone can reach the masses,” he said.

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Gregg Palermo says:

April 10, 2014 at 8:53 am

Journalists are middlemen and technology replaces middlemen, connecting senders and receivers directly, with extremely rare mishaps. It’s called disintermediation and a good reason not to let your kid major in journalism.