Technology

Journalists' Social Media Sideshow Will Prove Nothing


A French experiment will demonstrate the long-known inadequacy of single-source journalism. It won't take away from how social media performed in Haiti

Why do so many journalists and traditional media outlets see social media services like Twitter and Facebook as a threat? Maybe it's a result of too many breathless headlines about how they're going to replace traditional journalism (headlines that mostly appear in traditional media outlets, but don't get me started on that). Now a group of journalists has apparently agreed to "prove" how useless these tools are by locking themselves in a farmhouse for five days and reporting only news they receive through Twitter and Facebook. To make matters worse, the journalists in question won't be able to use the Web to follow any of the links they get through Twitter or Facebook, or verify any of the news that's reported—they will apparently have to write based on just the information coming in through those two networks. This is like giving a journalist a phone and telling them they can only report information from incoming calls, but no dialing of their own. The point, it seems, is to show that the information that comes through social media like Twitter is unreliable. But is that really a big news flash at this point? There are also plenty of missing details: Will these journalists be following and "friending" traditional media outlets like The New York Times or The Washington Post, or will they just be randomly surveying Twitter trending topics and Facebook pages? the news ecosystem

The reality is that no single source is ever enough, whether it's Twitter or a phone call from a source at City Hall. Social media hasn't changed that. And the most important aspect of new media is that it is (to use an overused word) an ecosystem. News can begin on Twitter, make its way through Facebook and other networks to blogs, and then meet up and merge with reports from the traditional media. Haiti is a perfect example: Twitter users on the ground after the earthquake became the eyes and ears of the world, and allowed people to experience firsthand what was happening. Then traditional media followed—many of whom in turn used Twitter and Facebook to tell their stories (http://twitter.com/smithjoanna). These social media networks are just tools, like telephones and notepads and tape recorders. Put simply, the French project is a farce and a sideshow. All it risks "proving" is that some journalists—and their masters (the experiment is being sponsored by the French public broadcasting association)—are as clueless as anyone else about Twitter or Facebook and how those services can benefit journalism. The fact is that journalism has always been a complex system with multiple inputs and multiple sources, and social media just adds to that. Excluding all but one or two of those sources proves nothing.

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