Truth in the Digital Age – the Pros, the Cons, the Future
Caldwell College media panel emphasizes new media is here to stay, flaws and all.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Blog ... the ways of sharing information in today’s digital age are endless and instantaneous. But, are they trustworthy?
That is what six journalists and media professionals representing television, radio, Internet media and public relations contemplated at Caldwell College’s Truth and Authenticity in News in a Digital Age: The Challenges, The Opportunities. The panel discussion, sponsored by the Caldwell College Media Relations Office and the Caldwell College Communications Arts Department, was held at the college’s Alumni Theatre on Thursday, April 7.
Attended by approximately 70 guests and students, Colette Liddy, Director of Media Relations at Caldwell College, and Professor Bob Mann, Professor of Communication Arts at Caldwell College, president of the Faculty Council and host of Sirius XM’s Let’s Consider the Source, co-moderated the event that not only delved into the benefits and potential pitfalls of today’s communications options, but also illustrated the diversity that exists among media professionals.
The expert panel included reporter and anchor Carol D’Auria of 1010 WINS; business columnist Eva Abreu of Home New Tribune, Courier News, MyCentralJersey.com, and founder of NJSocialMedia.com; Ken Hunter of R&J Public Relations and immediate past president of the N.J. chapter of the Public Relations Society of NJ; regional editor Elizabeth Moore of Patch.com and former reporter for the Star Ledger; editor Josh Wilwohl of the West Orange Patch, and author of All the News that Fits in Your Pocket; and reporter and anchor Kelly Wright of Fox News America’s News Headquarters Weekend.
Mann, after introducing the panel, set the stage for the discussion, wondering if news media has control over its own media, and asking if reporters now compete more with technology than the traditional competition with other reporters. In turn, each panelist provided a brief overview of their media, its current state, and the changes the digital media has brought to the table, including potential issues with truth and authenticity.
Patch.com regional editor, Moore touted the benefits of the new media, the number of communications tools available to today’s journalists, and the interactive relationships new media enables. “When does the Internet close?” asked Moore. “There is a lot of pressure on upcoming journalists to be available 24-7.”
1010 Wins anchor D’Auria agreed. “There was a time when radio was 24-7 and had the market cornered. No one else was 24-7. Then the Internet came along.” D’Auria illustrated the point, providing examples of today’s social media beating reporters to the punch and being used for validation. Relaying a story covered by the station, D’Auria shared “When I asked the fire department if the fire was started by a child with a lighter, he replied, ‘Yes, it’s on Twitter.’”
And, here, in this brief story, lurked the reason for this panel discussion. Yes, the story was on Twitter. But, was the Twitter feed accurate? In the instance, yes, the Twitter feed was reliable. But, this may not always be the case.
Citizen reporters, a term introduced during the discussion by Mann and referenced throughout the event, are not trained professionals. Sources are not verified, facts not checked. Yet, more and more often, they are the first on the scene. With smart phone in hand, the bystander of yesterday is the citizen reporter of today.
So, what is a news hound to do? “Look for multiple sources,” shared Abreu. “Reference Twitter feeds, Internet stories, and other social media. Look at the reporters, their background and what they have written about in the past. One source will not guarantee you the truth.”
Abreu also introduced the theme of “Transmedia” — a convergence of traditional and new media together. “Social media brings adjunct to traditional media,” said Abreu. “Social media opens up an additional channel.”
Yet, these experts also appreciate and revel in the value of citizen reporters. “We would not have known the truth of what was going on in Libya if not for social media,” said Wright. “As Omar Khadafi’s son was saying ‘Everything is fine here,’ through Twitter and Facebook, we could see the devastation going on.”
“I believe in the value of citizen reporters,” added Wilwohl. “The first report of the plane crash in the Hudson came from a man who put it on Twitter. He later won an award from Columbia University for his reporting of the event.”
Wilwohl also rejuvenated the audience with his comparison of the younger generation of online newsreaders to the more seasoned paper-in-hand news hounds, or in his words, “the dinosaurs.” “Even when I worked at a newspaper, I didn’t pick up a newspaper,” said Wilwohl. “I look online.”
As several self-proclaimed “dinosaurs” in the audience proudly displayed their hand-held papers, Wilwohl looked to the students in the audience who easily supported his claim. “Year over year, newspapers continue to decline. And, year over year, the use of online media continues to rise.”
What did the public relations expert have to say? “As public relations, we look at how to adapt to whatever the media is at the time,” said Hunter. “Our client’s couldn’t care less about news. The ultimate goal is to ring the cash register.”
Added Hunter, “When we ask our client’s what they want, the ‘dinosaurs’ start with Oprah, move to the New York Times, to Trade Media, and so on, until finally, many of them get to the realization that social media is where they need to be looking.”
And, his view on truth? “Multiple sources is definitely the way to go.”
“The Digital Media age is here and it is here now,” added Wright. “But it is also like a little child running away and you are simply trying to catch up.”