Mistakes, False News, and Errors
The New York Times article The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest highlights the growing trend of ask for forgiveness, not permission in journalism. The Code of Ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists provides an opportunity to examine the problems with report now, apologize later as well as the opportunity to examine the logical fallacy confirmation bias. Understanding how these shifts have changed news distribution in new media is necessary for developing a better sense of accuracy in news information.
Ask for Forgiveness, Not Permission
Report now, apologize later is an interesting concept in modern journalism because this reflects the journalism of assertion structure. Journalism of assertion violates several fundamentals of the Code of Ethics from the Society for Professional Journalists. Two notable examples are
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible (Society for Professional Journalists, 2014, para. 4).
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy (Society for Professional Journalists, 2014, para. 4).
This method of journalism creates a significant problem for fact checking because the burden of responsibility is shifted away from the journalist and onto the consumer (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010). When left to the public, journalism of assertion easily evolves into journalism of affirmation. Consumers are generally not skilled in fact checking nor do they have the resources and the biggest issue is consumers tend to find information that supports preconceived ideas. Confirmation Bias is the tendency, “to look only for evidence that confirms one’s beliefs and to ignore or pay less attention to evidence that contradicts one’s beliefs” (Sullivan, 2009, p. 99)
Verification vs. Affirmation
Returning to the roots of journalism of verification is a noble cause but almost unrealistic. Modern culture has shifted to the point that assertion and affirmation journalism are the primary modes of news information distribution. Reporter Bill Carter (2013) illustrates an example of sloppy news distribution with the April 2013 coverage of the Boston Bombings
“Numerous organizations, including The Associated Press, The Boston Globe and several local Boston television stations, erroneously reported Wednesday afternoon that an arrest had been made, or that a suspect was in custody, citing unnamed law enforcement sources. Two of the reports came from CNN and the Fox News Channel, both the subject of widespread criticism last June after misreporting the result of the Supreme Court ruling on President Obama’s health care overhaul law” (para. 2).
Respected publications offering well-researched investigative journalism are competing with the lightning speed of the Internet, which offers blogs, pseudo-news websites, and echo chambers in the forms of social media groups and message boards to anyone with an Internet connection. These non-credible forms of information dominate public access to news, which means the public should be demanding a higher level of credibility from established news sources.
Pointing Fingers On and Off the Keyboard
In the example of the New York Times article The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest speed trumped accuracy and the cost was credibility. University of Southern California journalism teacher and former network news correspondent Judy Muller stated, “I fear we have permanently entered the Age of the Retraction” (Carter, 2013, para. 11). Journalistic coverage of this tragedy most notably included the SJP Ethic, “Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story” (Society for Professional Journalists, 2014, para. 4).
Blame is an interesting concept in new media because blame assumes the shift of responsibility. If the public blames news media for hastily distributing poorly researched news, then the public should accept some responsibility for wanting instant news. If news media sources blame the public for not having a developed comprehension of accurate information, then media outlets should accept responsibility for strictly using credible sources.
The New York Times article The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports underscores a larger issue in modern media, which is ask for forgiveness, not permission with accuracy of information. Requiring news media sources to provide verified information and expecting the public to have some comprehension of credibility is a middle ground that should be reached. By meeting in the middle, fewer mistakes are made and less inaccurate information is disseminated.
Carter, B., (2013, April 17). The F.B.I. Criticizes the News Media After Several Mistaken Reports of an Arrest. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/business/media/fbi-criticizes-false-reports-of-a-bombing-arrest.html?_r=0
Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T., (2010). Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Bloomsbury.
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014, September 6). SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
Sullivan, L. E. (2009). The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. London: SAGE Publications, Inc. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url,cpid&custid=shapiro&db=e000xna&AN=474685&site=ehost-live&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_99