Bob Schieffer said good-bye yesterday on his last day of hosting Face the Nation. He spent 46 years as a journalist with CBS. This brings to mind how much the news media have changed in half a century.
When Mr. Schieffer started, television was the new medium on the block. It threatened the established print and radio news.
Today, many people have lost confidence in mainstream media (MSM). They have turned to newer, more responsive ways to get information. They have turned to social news and citizen journalism.
Unfortunately, too many people think that one or the other is “the best” way of getting news without considering that each has it benefits and drawbacks.
Mainstream Media (MSM)
Let’s look at MSM. One of the best things about MSM is their system of checks and balances. Oh, it doesn’t always work. Just ask the folks over at Rolling Stone magazine. The pressure that social media has placed on MSM to get the story out as quickly as possible has led to mistakes in reporting.
But MSM are answerable to advertisers who won’t tolerate irresponsible journalism for long.
MSM also have a system of professionally trained reporters and editors who help present the news in context. (Folks, total objectivity in the news is a myth; it never existed nor can it ever exist.)
MSM have money that allows them to send professionals into the field and establish bureaus all over the world helping to monitor what is going on.
On the other hand, MSM are beholden to the advertisers and money. This means that sometimes certain information is not stressed as maybe it should be. MSM are very large with established bureaucracies and lots of cracks for information to fall into never to be seen again.
MSM build relationships with news makers. It is a big decision to run a story that is critical and may burn bridges.
The best thing about citizen journalism is that the average person often can share information immediately bypassing professional reporters, who need to dig to find it. People can take videos and photos and upload them right to social media. They can write posts or Tweet about things they are witnessing in real time.
Citizen journalism’s immediacy can lead to quick response by the public. We saw this during the Boston Marathon bombing.
Since citizen journalists don’t have to answer to advertisers, they don’t have to worry about hurting feelings and losing revenue.
On the other hand, many citizen journalists are not trained reporters. They are unaware of libel laws (yes, they still do count for things put up on the Internet) or how to present the information in an organized, useful way. The accuracy and credibility of information may come into question.
Some citizen journalists innocently make mistakes when presenting raw information or footage. Yet there are those who will use social media (and the anonymity it often affords) to maliciously mislead people.
Rumor and innuendo that go viral can be devastating. People will remember the report, not the retraction (if there ever is one).
I think that asking which of these – MSM or citizen journalism – is best is the wrong question. When it comes to the news, we need to understand our responsibility as consumers. We use the news to make decisions, so we must constantly question the basis, motivation, and accuracy of the information we receive from any source.
D. Jasun Carr, a professor of digital media at Idaho State University, said in The Daily Beast’s May 15 article, “When It Comes to the News, Who Can You Trust?” that media literacy – where people develop ways to sift through information to determine what is reliable, biased, or junk – is what’s needed in today’s information age.