From the fact-gathering process to the dissemination of stories, social media has profoundly transformed journalism. We have more eyes in more places to find stories, and we have a real-time outlet through which to tell them. However, that is not to suggest these platforms do not come without drawbacks.
As Jeff Jarvis argues, no one truly owns journalists; it’s not an industry but rather an activity. While social media platforms give everyone a voice in the journalism process, they do not guarantee that all information will be true; they do not guarantee that all journalism on social media will be done “the right way.”
That does not mean only journalists may report accurate information, nor does it mean all verified Twitter accounts produce completely accurate information 100 percent of the time. For example, I spend an inordinate amount of time checking NBA trade rumors—and every now and then, the rumored trade becomes a reality—but I certainly am not shocked when a sensible rumor does not come to fruition.
Social media consumers are of course entitled to believe what they wish, but perhaps it would be smart to hold off on holding reports and rumors as legitimate until the information is verified.
(And it is the job of journalists, to whom the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics applies, to verify the facts.)
Social media has been especially useful during breaking-news situations, with slews of 140-character dispatches being sent out—often times—as the events are occurring. Reporters have an intense incentive to be the first to break the news, and ethical issues can easily arise because of this approach.
Steve Fox documented a Storify in which he and CNN’s Jake Tapper tussled during the immediate aftermath of a shooting at LAX Airport. While Fox largely is correct in his insistence for Tapper to name his source, it is important to keep in mind that these “sources” often times only exist because their identities are not divulged.
In this sense, perhaps Tapper has a legitimate reason to hide his source.
In Tapper’s situation, however, he reveals his source was an LAPD officer, which suggests this officer wasn’t some secret “source” he needed to protect. It was a shortcoming on his part not to name his source, especially after Fox brings up the issue.