As a spectator in a newsroom, I am fortunate to see the process of collecting and reporting of the news on a daily basis. I watch as the editorial staff makes difficult decisions daily as to content. In our quiet town, stories that are considered sensational rarely happen, but when they do, they usually appear on social media first.
In the ever-changing world of the newspaper business, no longer is circulation the only measure of the success of a publication. More often nowadays, the success is measured by how many hits our online stories get. While the temptation exists for journalists to put pen to paper and run with the stories on social media to boost these stats, it takes incredible strength of character to not get wrapped up in the hype and report a story that is sensationalized, hearsay and unsubstantiated.
I have seen first-hand the angst felt by the editorial staff at The Free Press. Often they are called out on social media for not picking up a story that is getting much play on Facebook. While the easy road would be for them to pick up the story and run with it, it is, while appearing on social media just that – a story. No matter the source, the information still needs to be substantiated prior to printing. To not do so is to lose credibility as a publication.
The hype that drives some Facebook users to hop on the bandwagon of a controversial post without full knowledge of the facts is the same hype that can tempt journalists to report on that story. This combined with the pressure to gain online readership can be a tricky balancing act.
It is easy on social media to remain faceless, cry foul and take a stand. Often we see the snowball effect with online stories, as the more people that see a post; the more it is shared, sometimes taking it further from the truth. It then follows that as the number of people viewing a post increases, so does the pressure for our editorial staff to report on it.
While some of the posts on social media are true, others certainly are not. It is a journalistic responsibility to determine which is which, and this can only be done with full knowledge of the facts.
There is nothing wrong with posting your views on social media if you are comfortable with the consequences that might bring. It is not okay for journalists to do the same.
Please remember next time we again do not jump on the social media story bandwagon that it is not because we are not tempted to, it is because the story is unsubstantiated, and possibly not true.
Trust me, you will be grateful for the journalistic self-control if you are the subject of that story.