Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Doing ethics: A nice summary of the pressures we face

Poynter's Steve Myers' lengthy piece about how several media organizations were led astray by a joke photo posted on Twitter nicely summarizes the pressures we face these days.

I was especially struck by this:
"When it comes to something like the tornado," Adrian Chen, who posted the photo on Gawker, told me via e-mail, "you've got to have something up quickly, and you're pressed hard by the knowledge that thousands of people are tweeting about it, basically 'scooping' you in real time. So you have to use pictures from Twitter. "
Unfortunately, I think Chen's "everyone's doing it, we gotta to it" reasoning leaves out the reality that he -- and others manning news desks -- have an even greater responsibility to vet these things. As Chen noted later in the piece:

"Next time, I'll do a bit more digging around Twitter to verify the authenticity of a photo I find there, maybe by contacting the person who posted it, or seeing if others had posted similar pictures," Chen told me. "And I imagine I'll opt for a more plausible -- if less dramatic -- photo."

Uh, yeah. Alex Howard got it right in a follow-up Tweet:
Is Gmail at fault if users FWD flawed stories? Or AT&T if false MMS spread? Wrong msg on semaphore? People duped, not medium
Myers outlines some common-sense ways that Craig Kanalley, traffic and trends editor at Huffington Post, became suspicious about the photo.

Robert Hernandez has more at OJR - some excellent thoughts on speed vs. responsiblity (but also the well-placed admonition against wanting to deprecate social media and its place in the news ecology).

One of the things I find tough as a teacher is creating the true pressure atmosphere I think is needed to teach these things. We can use something like this as a case study, for instance, but often the raw, real-time material needed to make this very real isn't there or goes away (the jokester, for instance, has now put his Twitter account on protected status). How are others approaching that? I don't think the standard case study adequately produces the kinds of escalated pressures reflected in Chen's statement.


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