New Media Journalism: Is there a place for authenticity?
When you think of news, the first thing that pops into your head might be the newspaper, or the six o’clock news on channel four. However, nowadays you can find news everywhere, at any time, in almost any form. With the aid of new technology and new media, producing news stories have never been easier.
This is evident in the creation of many new websites that allow you, as Jay Rosen says, the “people formerly known as the audience,” to post new content as easily as you are consuming them. New sites are constantly popping up all over the internet, proposing different forms in which people anywhere, anytime, can upload whatever new story they happen to catch. With the increasingly familiar idea of camera phones, the idea of people publishing their own news stories becomes ever more popular. Instead of reading the newspaper headlines to know current events, you can simply broadcast and publish on any platform you choose “when it meets a need or when it sounds like fun.” You now hold the power to circulate and communicate new information.
But with the ease and speed of posting new stories, how can you know this user-created content is accurate? How do you know they are telling the truth? Take sites like Tumblr, for example. While Tumblr is widely recognized as a social media site with a vast majority of users being in the teenager range, occasional posts containing links and references to what might constitute as an actual news story do surface. But when the original poster remains anonymous and the post circulates with added commentary from more anonymous users, how do you know that post is the real thing?
One way might be to track down the origins of the post. You can always click around until you find the “source” of a particular post, and perhaps there will be links leading to an actual news organization’s coverage of a particular event. Once you’ve tracked down the links to outside sources, you can begin to investigate their sources. You can also conduct your own research on the topic, using search engines to find more posts about a particular event if you are not satisfied with the information found on a Tumblr post. Sometimes, other users might even add links and sources into the comments, in order to support or debunk the post. But in the end, how do you know these sources are to be trusted?
As Rosen suggests, there’s a “new balance of power” between the news organizations and the audience. With the audience gaining the power to post and effectively spread information faster and better than major news organizations, how will the audience differentiate between real news and made-up news? Sites such as Twitter and Tumblr do not always source their posts. It becomes up to the audience to find their own sources. In this age of new media and internet access, it might have been ingrained in you to never trust what you read on the internet. But if you are a teenager on Tumblr, the random posts about current events might be your only source of news, and amidst all the other posts you might not even think to check for facts. This is what makes this new power relation between the news and the “former audience” terrifying.
But before you even begin to scour the internet for the facts, what does the truth mean to you? Is it enough to say a post is accurate if it lists facts from a reliable news organization? Rosen mentions how with the age of new media, “the public” is now “more able” and “less predictable.” This is certainly true on sites such as Tumblr and Twitter, where anybody can post news, and if many people reblog or retweet the post, it can fool you into thinking it is a credible source of information. That’s not even counting the possible biases surrounding a post. Since the OP can remain anonymous, and as they do not have to be affiliated with a specific news organization with a reputation to uphold, they do not abide by the same journalism ethics or scrutiny. If they have an opinion about an event, they have no obligation to keep the post objective.
The rise of new media platforms as a way of telling news comes with easier access for the public to share and post news stories themselves. However, while it may be much faster to spread information than before, the consequences might be the mass-production of false information. There is no sure-fire way to know if a post contains “real” news or not, just as in the original newspapers.
In the end, only you are responsible for the authenticity of the news that you consume.