In a school assignment last week we were asked to read a recent New York Times article that talked about Wikipedia breaking the news of Tim Russert's death. It stated: "Long before Mr. Russert’s death was reported on air, however, it was flashing across the Internet via the text-messaging service Twitter and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Television networks have a tradition of allowing a network suffering a death to make the announcement first. Other news outlets, including The New York Times and The New York Post, were about five minutes earlier in reporting Mr. Russert’s death for their Web sites."
So, Wiki broke it before NBC, where Russert worked. What is wrong with this picture? Or, should I ask, is there anything wrong with this picture?
Times are a changin'. I must be a big wuss, and I don't think I have the chops to be a reporter. The thought of reporting news of a death before family members are notified is not acceptable to me as a person. While I understand the goal of news outlets breaking big stories fast and first, where is the taste level? Do we no longer care about human beings? Has the gentleman's agreement gone by the wayside? What if Tim Russert's wife and son had seen this online or heard through the grapevine before being personally notified Tim had died?
According to the article, the Wiki principle states "No Original Research" yet this site has other times, been the place where news has broken (according to the Times article).
With all the access we have to online social media outlets, the challenge is only going to grow. Citizen journalism is now at work. While I love having instant access to breaking news, is there a line we don't cross?
I think the line went away and I find it scary. Full-fledged journalists compete with hackers. Everyone wants to break the story and the hackers do not abide by journalistic ethics. Tim Russert’s death is one example but sadly, there are many more.
The journalism code of ethics includes verifying a tip or a rumor with a credible source before reporting the story. Even if the source must remain anonymous, the writer must be satisfied with the truth of the information. The Internet writer does not abide by this credo. Any gossip or tidbit (true or untrue) is fair game. Many times these stories turn out to be false or at the very least, slanted, and it’s too late. The rumor is out there and it’s destroying someone’s reputation or life.
Yes, I am on the Internet every day and I do like the immediacy of the information. But, I am still grasping tightly to the traditional media outlets. My respect goes to the reporter who gives me the quote or the sound bite and then gives me the background. My interest is piqued when someone bothers to do the leg work and give me the full story.
Unfortunately, the good online journalists are now competing head-to-head with the "hacks" now that the worldwide web is our playing field.