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Whose Journalistic Standards?

A couple of days ago, a reporter for a major newspaper asked the following by email:

My editor has asked me for a story, pegged to the Virginia shootings, that looks at the decline of the traditional journalistic “gatekeeper” role in an age when anyone with a cellphone camera can instantly be called a reporter.

Quite aside from these “citizen journalists,” there appear to be many people in the blogosphere who identify themselves as journalists — or media critics — regardless of whether they have any professional experience in the field.

When a TV outfit asks for video footage from whoever has any, what responsibility does it have to make sure the source is credible? Or are those standards going out the window now that speed and instant competition are paramount?

Has all this led to a decline in long-held journalistic standards?

And should reporters be relying on the casual musings of people on social networking sites, as occurred this week after the shootings in Blacksburg?

I replied:

Credibility is essential to a news organization, or at least some news organizations, and that means applying due diligence to material from the sources we cite and quote.

The excellent question you ask about the video footage is worth asking in more traditional journalism situations, too — and yet I wonder how often it is asked. How many professional reporters ask for identification when they do the “person on the street” interviews? Few, if any, I’d guess. If standards are “going out the window” in this respect, I have to ask when those standards were ever inside the building in the first place.

Things are even messier in an age of democratized media, I grant. But let’s consider those “casual musings” as raw data in addition to early drafts of history. Journalists can sift it and make decisions about whether to use it in the work they then create. But we all have to apply common-sense — and crucially, news orgs should label things correctly so readers/viewers can make intelligent decisions.

1 Comment on “Whose Journalistic Standards?”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Apr 20th, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Ehh … I’m not even going to bother. A set-up question on one side, evangelism on the other, what good would it do for me to shout to the wind?