When the economy started tanking in 2008, it wasn’t just homeowners that were put out on the street. Journalists were too, by the thousands.
Michael Mandel estimated on Bloomberg Business Week in September 2011 that roughly 20,000 journalists were lost in just one year. That’s around a 20% loss across the board. A fifth of the workforce, gone just like that.
Like many industries, journalists that survived cutbacks at television stations, radio stations and newspapers were left to pick up the slack of lost colleagues. The news cycle and story count wasn’t going to suffer because of the dramatic drop in budgets and work force.
With less staffing in most newsrooms across the country, a great need developed for new technology and delivery platforms that could counter-act the problems of deep staff and financial cuts.
Fast forward to today…
THE DRIVING FORCE OF NEW MEDIA DELIVERY: YOU!
That’s right, as big as media is today, there is still an audience news organizations pay attention too. In the past five years media platforms have grown from traditional delivery methods like television, radio and newspaper to internet, RSS news feeds, social media and blogs.
The proliferation of media into new platforms was driven by the habits of watchers, listeners and readers. The media’s audience no longer needs to watch at a certain time or buy a newspaper. They get what they want when they want it in just a couple of minutes from a laptop, tablet or mobile device. Online delivery gives newsrooms a global audience and the ability to increase advertising revenue from the constant demand of online content. The faster the news, the more virally it can spread.
Everyone wins, right?
HOW OUR NEWS IS CHANGING
New media platforms are speeding up the delivery of news at an unprecedented rate. In an “I gotta have it and I need it now” age, media organizations today can publish news to its audience in not just minutes, but seconds.
Subscribers to various news wire services can turn 1000 words of wire copy into a compact 250 word article and post it almost instantly. To do this, media doesn’t have to make a phone call, perform a background check or even make sure the story was properly vetted.
Updates or “teases” to coverage on Twitter and Facebook can be posted in seconds and can be very powerful statements framing the context of the story a reader or watcher is following.
Finally, many media organizations today allow viewers to send in pictures and video of stories they may come across. This kind of mobile technology has opened the door to stories none of us may have ever heard about.
The speed of news today is convenient and powerful, but it also has drawbacks.
As news delivery changes, more and more reporters are relying on other news and police reports to quickly “source” the information they publish to get it out. The ethical process of reporting a story is already tarnished by this stage. Here’s why:
FIRST: Police and Government generally aren’t subject to libel or defamation actions. Police reports carry a lot of power in media and in some organizations, at least initially, are not questioned.
NEXT: Media can take a police report and site it as “fact” without legally needing to contact the subject of the story to get their side. As long as the information published comes from a police report and is properly attributed, media is generally protected from libel and defamation.
MEDIA ON MEDIA: When one media organization sites another media organization’s information, they most likely never took time to look into the story or the particular element on its own (the reason they site/attribute another entity or one they aren’t partnered with).
THE RUB: Media organizations usually have legal departments or attorney’s on-call year-round ready to protect the company from lawsuits. Some media even carry insurance that covers them in the event of a lawsuit. Even if an irresponsible media organization loses a libel or defamation case the chances are almost 100% the ruling would be reversed on appeal. The majority of case-law from Appellate Courts to The Supreme Court overturns cases on the basis of free speech under The First Amendment.
CONSEQUENCE: For people on the receiving end of false allegations published by media based on a police report, it is almost impossible to get vindication because of how expensive and lengthy a libel or defamation lawsuit can be. Further, it is very hard for the “little people” to ever get equal media coverage when they are found not guilty, charges are reduced or dropped altogether.
Winston Charles Arbitration Magazine is a website inspiring ethics, justice and accountability. In an article called “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Winston Charles writes, “a reputable journalist should report only what he/she can prove and nothing else because it is easy to do serious damage to a person’s personal reputation”.
It would take months to identify the number of court cases and people impacted by unethical and one-sided journalism. Even after acquittal or a case being thrown out, the subjects of unethical coverage still walk away with significant personal damage. Some would argue they may have got away with a serious crime and their punishment should be personal damage. Looking specifically at unethical media coverage, one can’t ignore how irresponsible journalism inaccurately and unfairly creates false public opinion in the first place.
THE GOOD NEWS
There are still financially stable and ethical news organizations out there. I have been fortunate in my career as a journalist to work with some of the best in the business. Not all working journalists are as lucky as I have been in having good guides that provide ongoing training and insight into ethical issues. The first step to fixing a problem is making people aware of it. It is my hope through articles like this and other media dedicated to high standards of ethics and compassion in what they do, to start setting an example that audiences will appreciate and start to expect. The bigger the problem becomes, the harder it is to fix. YOU have a say though! Just like how your habits have changed media delivery platforms, your choice in what kind of news coverage you subscribe to will make media, big and small, pay attention.