Harvard University’s journalism magazine has dedicated its third-quarter edition to investigations around ‘truth in the age of social media.’
Ann Marie Lipinski introduces the issue with a quote from Linda Greenhouse, a former New York Times reporter who now teaches at Yale Law School, who asks a question pertinent to the entire edition: “Why is it just so difficult to make the search for truth the highest journalistic value?”
The July edition covers the question from a number of angles. Below are a selection of highlights and must-reads:
Craig Silverman explores the importance of fact checking in the age of social media. Today, major publications and broadcasters actively seek out contributions from citizens, including videos, pictures and text to include in a story. Silverman quotes Storyful founder Mark Little: “Not too long ago, reporters were the guardians of scarce facts delivered at an appointed time to a passive audience. Today we are the managers of an overabundance of information and content, discovered, verified and delivered in partnership with active communities.” But simultaneously “never before in the history of journalism — or society — have more people and organizations been engaged in fact checking and verification.” According to Silverman, fact checking has taken on a new priority in contemporary journalism.
Nieman fellow Santiago Lyon looks into digital manipulation of photographs. Rudimentary efforts of the past have been replaced with efforts so sophisticated that media organisations have begun using computer software to help determine authenticity.
Last year a picture was published on the BBC website that appeared to show the shocking aftermath of a massacre in Houla, Syria with hundreds of bodies lined up in rows. The image had been supplied by activists in Syria. On reading the BBC website the picture’s actual photographer rang the BBC immediately to inform them that they had been misinformed and that he had actually taken the shot in Iraq in 2003. Such cases underline the risks of posting unauthenticated images, and are investigated at the BBC by a department called that User-Generated Content Hub. The group has a staff of 20 people and receives over 3,000 contributions per day.
Storify’s Mark Little talks about his efforts to create a tool that will help journalists sift the truth from the vagaries of the social media rumour mill. Journalists, he says, “need to get comfortable with risk, transparency and collaboration. We need to abandon the notion that we have a monopoly on truth.”
Some non-profit organisations that claim to supply expert opinions are set up by spin doctors to further corporate agendas, according to ethics watchdog Melanie Sloan. Nieman Reports’s Stefanie Friedhoff talks to Sloan about how journalists are being deceived, how experts with no expertise end up in news articles, and why “he said, she said” reporting isn’t helping.
John Diedrich writes about why learning to use databases and mapping software could prove crucial to journalists working in media today.