The matter of facts (and their ethics)

Twitter has become a popular way to disseminate news. (Photo: Pixabay)

There is no question that social media has enhanced our abilities to disseminate information and to inform audiences about the events of the world. But alongside that ability has come a culture where anyone, with a click of a button, can publish anything, be it true or not.

A recent article from the American Press Institute recently considered the role journalists have in the Twitter age when it comes for information, and why Twitter, despite its frustrations in this noisy and competitive environment, is still necessary for journalists.

Yet, it also asks this: What should journalists do when it comes to information on the social network itself? Should we give facts or let the Twitter universe take care of itself?

SPJ’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it – that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, and also calls on journalists to be accountable and transparent. That is especially the case when it comes to reporting on Twitter.

As journalists, we should be advocates for the truth. We must verify everything, check our sources, cross every t and dot every i. We do so knowing in good faith that the truth will help the public be better informed so they can take the information presented away to make important decisions in their own life. As the debate continues on the quality of information available, we have a responsibility to present the facts, and let our audience make up their own minds, not to tell them what to think.

The API also cites a study from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, which says that newsrooms “don’t consistently take the time to correct misinformation on social media.” While audiences have a right to express their views about the day’s events, the facts are presented as they are – fact, with no editorial judgment. Journalists should promote them and advocate for them.

But this raises a broader question. What does it mean to not only be a journalist in the Twitter age, but what does it means for the relationship with journalists and audiences? We ask these questions as the relationship changes with as fast a pace as the social networks themselves, and the words fake news continue to become a prominent core of the lexicon.

Understanding that relationship and making it better requires work that cannot be confined to 140 characters, and work that cannot be done overnight. In an age where the line between news and opinion is blurred, and where drama takes precedence over the sober presentation of information, there are simple things that can be done now by news organizations – including labeling opinion as opinion, and verifying every last detail before running with the story (remember the maxim – it is better to be right than be first).

Yet, it’s more than that. It involves the conversation with audiences and the public, the emphasis on media literacy in schools, and the need to fully emphasize the teaching of ethics in the curriculum of journalism programs at universities to ensure that for the next generation of journalists, they can do ethical journalism in a time where technology continues to evolve.

No one person can do this by themselves. We need to collaborate, not compete, when it comes to the advocacy of facts, when it comes to the need for journalism, when it comes to enhancing the relationship between journalists and audiences. We need to do this not just for our sake, not just for journalism’s, but for democracy’s sake.

The facts matter. The truth matters. Journalism matters, and as so long as a need for the facts exist, so long as the necessity to seek truth and report it is evident, irrespective of platform, we should, and we must, advocate for it – because if we don’t, who will?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


comments powered by Disqus

Connect

Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn


© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ