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How do you Trust the News in a Digital World?

Digital Ethics Panel

By Emily Study, SOC Website Reporter

Living in the 21st century, it has become all too easy to access posts, tweets, photos and videos on social media platforms, but how do you trust the news in a digital world?

In hopes of answering this question, the Loyola chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) partnered with the Chicago Headline Club, the largest SPJ chapter in the country, to host a forum on digital media ethics on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

Ashton Mitchell, president of the Loyola chapter of SPJ, and Alden Loury, president of the Chicago Headline Club, moderated the discussion, asking the panelists to share their advice on digital ethics in journalism.

“There’s tremendous pressure on news organizations to get the news out there as soon as possible,” said Hugh Dellios, panelist and the news editor for the Illinois Associated Press (AP). “But at this point, the public needs to reward news organizations for being right, [not just fast].”

This pressure for instantaneous news has created a blurred line between valuing expedience over accuracy, which the panel said raises several issues for both news organizations as well as readers in this digital age.

“People are learning to be ethical producers and consumers of content online,” said Meghan Dougherty, panelist and assistant professor of digital communication. “Journalists need to be well-versed in this new space.”

The presence of social media has caused news organizations to face new copyright, privacy, ownership and ethical concerns. “Because [reporters] can get the information, should they use the information without some certain guidelines?” said Beth Konrad, senior professional in residence and faculty advisor for the Loyola chapter of SPJ.

According to Dellios, although social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, provide journalists with an abundance of readily accessible information, news organizations must still follow set guidelines before publishing this content. “Use social media as tip service, but then do your own reporting,” Dellios said. “The old rules still apply.”

He said the AP sticks to its standards by verifying the source and authenticity of photos or videos, whether they are taken from social media sites or otherwise. The AP contacts the author and has the author sign a written release agreeing to give the AP the right to publish the content.

Dellios added that journalists still need to value accuracy above all else, even if it means waiting to publish a story until the facts have been verified. “Waiting takes a lot of planning, patience and courage,” he said.

In doing so, news organizations lessen the likelihood of publishing an error, which in the long run will increase the organization’s credibility, according to Dellios.

However, there is a shared responsibility between the news organizations and their readers for providing and recognizing accurate content, according to panelist Bastiaan Vanacker, assistant professor and program director of the Center for Digital Media Ethics and Policy.

Dougherty agreed. “[Readers] should be able to recognize what characteristics the medium itself is lending to the story; learn how to read different formats,” she said. “Don’t expect anything of the Twitter environment other than immediacy. It’s about expectations in different areas. Readers can be savvy enough to distinguish the difference between social media [and news].”

Thus, both news organizations as well as readers must understand how to use social media sites for sources and information in order to create and trust the news in this digital world.

You can read much more about digital ethics here: www.digitalethics.org.