July 29, 2012
I’ve been thinking a bit recently about the way that the essential journalistic concept of “credibility” is evolving in the new media world, mainly about two tangentially related topics.
1. I think people my age and younger care less about credibility as a marker of legitimacy. If your main source of news is Twitter, Facebook, or another online, social-based app, then the credibility you are seeking is from your social contact, not their sources. If I post a story on my Facebook timeline, I am saying that the story is credible, regardless of where the link leads. Journalists need to be wary of this development, because real journalism, and real credibility is hard-won and expensive, but is now being placed on an even plane with any kid who’s got an iPhone and is in the right place at the right time (and is possibly participating in the “news,” raising important ethical questions).
2. In a world of 24 hour, I needed it 5 minutes ago deadlines, the competition to be first, a relic from older styles of news consumption, can cause news organizations to jump the gun on reporting events. Case-in-point, CNN and Fox News raced to be the first on the air with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Obamacare case, and, as everyone knows by now, both reported the ruling incorrectly. They were jumping to be first and ended up being wrong. The obvious cost here is that CNN and Fox News lost a some credibility in future breaking news situation. We can’t know what would have happened had they waited to read the decision fully and come in 2nd or 3rd, but I know that, even as someone who works in this business and knows exactly what happened, I looked skeptically at any news story that contained the words “according to CNN” for the next few weeks.
It’s a bit of a double edged sword for traditional media. They’ve built up reputations based on journalistic integrity and credibility, but they compete against, seemingly, every internet connected person in the world. But the costs of a mistake for the traditional media are much steeper than the costs for that kid with an iPhone reporting for himself and his friends.