I read an interesting little piece today from ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil. She is a member of the advisory board at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State, and she shared her contribution to the center’s monthly commentary via her Twitter account.
The gist of her entry is that journalism’s worst enemy these days is journalists. On the surface, that doesn’t make any sense, but the truth is, she has a point.
In today’s climate, everyone rushes to have a story first as opposed to having a story right. If you visit O’Neil’s employer on any given weekday afternoon, you will see the headlines box on the right side of the page. Most of the stories begin with the same words: “Sources” or “Report.” Rarely is there a story that makes its first appearance as confirmed fact and not a report from a source.
Twitter, for all its positives, is probably the genesis of this. While the 24-hour-news cycle brought on by the spreading of the internet started the ball rolling, Twitter is the oil slick that sent it careening down the mountain. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true: the more easily someone is able to share something they’ve “learned” or “heard,” the more likely they are to share incorrect information in a rush to be the first one to share anything at all.
And it’s not malicious; it’s not like these respected journalists are lying to people, they’re just sharing what they know as soon as they know it. The difference is that Walter Cronkite wouldn’t break into your television show unless he knew something; 2013’s writers just have to type a few sentences into their phone and thousands of people will do the disseminating for them.
O’Neil talks about writers tearing each other down. It sounds to me like she’s accusing her fellow journalists of turning into your standard, run-of-the-mill message board trolls who fire up their computers with the sole purpose of insulting someone who disagrees with them. It’s a shame, but that’s another pitfall of the internet age: just because you can fire off a snarky tweet or blog post, doesn’t mean you have to. Not that journalists have anonymity on the web, but the detachment provided by the internet serves sort of like “beer muscles” that lower their inhibitions; I guarantee that the kind of in-fighting and airing of “dirty laundry” O’Neil mentions would never happen in a face-to-face setting, but online, with social media, it’s as easy as type-and-click.
I know it sounds hypocritical for some nobody to write a blog post about the dangers of blogs and social media, but hey, I’m allowed to have an opinion. As is everyone else. But it’s also everyone’s responsibility to present it in the most civil and constructive way possible.
There’s an adage that says, “with great power comes great responsibility.” In the internet age, that saying is outdated; nowadays, with even the slightest bit of access should come great patience. And, of course, that whole “responsibility” thing.