Crisis, Journalism and Social Media

It’s no news that we are in crisis. Besides the economical one, we are witnessing a world where new things come up almost every minute. I’m talking here about Social Media, and what I would like to question is whether and how journalism's crisis is related to the  whole new scenario provided by Social Media and all the features attached to them, particularly when a crisis strikes, whenever it is a natural disaster or a topic related to a political issue.

When I studied Journalism at college, more than twenty years ago, I learn that I had to confirm the information with two sources. That was the way I started working at the radio in Spain and that was what any of us did. No one ever thought of broadcasting any little piece of information not corroborated by at least one trusted source. If a citizen called you, or the Radio Station, to give some information, they were a source of information you should check. Nothing more, nothing less.

Picture send by @Kailuland to @112madrid
showing a crack in Peñalara (Madrid)

Only yesterday a citizen called @kaikuland sent a message via Twitter,with some pictures, to Madrid Emergency Service, @112cmadrid, warning about deep cracks (up to eight meters) on the snow in Peñalara, a mountain near Madrid. In a wonderful example of citizen journalism, @kaikuland contributed to create civil protection culture providing graphical useful evidence through Social Media, as @LuisSerranoR explained in this video-post (in spanish) shared by the digital magazine iRescate. Well done.

Influencers and trusted information

On the other side, we also know of many examples where false information had been uploaded through social media. If we only have a look to Hurricane Sandy pictures, there is no need to insist on the topic.

But what happens when it is a traditional media with a reputation and millions of readers who shares non verified information? I'm talking now about spanish newspaper El País when the diary published a fake of Venezuela's Prime Minister, Hugo Chavez, on January 25th 2013, with 5 columns in its paper edition. The picture had been  authentified by a news Agency, they say. It remained in the digital edition for half an hour while the paper edition was withdrawn.
Paper edition of EL PAÍS showing fake
picture of Hugo Chávez in hospital

As a consequences of this misfortune, El País has lost not only an important part of its reputation but also many readers. What for? To be the first? We all know that in this new scenario, speed is more related to being relevant and to avoid rumors when a crisis strikes than to being first when there is no need. Old days when journalist and the media were the first source has gone, forever.

We, the journalist, should remember that we are who know the rules and we shouldn't forget how they apply, since we are supposed to make journalism (according to law), despite the new social media or whatever new chances the future may bring. It is our responsibility to be truthful because it is not only our reputation what we should worry about, but in a disaster, it is matter of protecting citizens, their properties and the environment.

Thanks  to digital volunteers, integrated in VOST, traditional media as well as ordinary citizens who post  with responsibility, social media are self-correcting, and things always end up in the right place.

If the influencers are those with a reputation, you may lose yours, besides your influence, at once, whoever you are, a media, a journalist or a citizen, in one single click.

The question is: Is the Hugo Chavez incident, and many others we see almost daily, related with the fact that the traditional media are not anymore neither the only source of information nor the first? I think it is. Don't you?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

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