Ethics Discussion: Is it News, Journalism, or Traffic Drivers … The Social Trap

The debate is heated and has been heated for years…how does the social space play inside the journalistic space. This morning the above status updated came across my newsfeed inside Facebook. So here is the story or “news” that was reported via WYFF.com:

“Deputies say a security officer inside the store noticed Ariail trying to leave the store without paying for items. Some of the items included a youth cup, Pokémon cards, a box of hair color and two bottles of wart remover.”

I immediately began to question why is this “news” and why this story warrants this report on Facebook? Gigaom.com posted an article surrounding this issue “So can we stop talking about bloggers vs. journalists now?” In this article they look about HuffingtonPost.com, who just received a Pulitzer Prize, they look at how this “social outlet” created it’s broad reach.

“Did the Huffington Post leverage its web speed and broad reach, including traffic-driving features such as slideshows of swimsuit models and aggregated posts based on stories written by other media outlets, to build the foundation that allowed it to add those traditional journalistic elements? Of course it did, just as many newspapers have. In fact, the history of newspapering — and particularly pioneers like William Randolph Hearst — reads a lot like the rise of the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed and other entities, except with paper instead of bits.”

So is the Facebook status update from WYFF.com “news” or even “journalism”? Or is just content provided to merely drive traffic? And does this have a place in the journalistic space?

So back to my original thought…when I first noticed the status update, I was honestly sad for the woman. I immediately assumed she was a mother who was probably trying to find a toy for her child and another few items, and did not have the funds to pay for the items. I had many questions, areas where I would want to research to find more answers.

1) Is she a mother?
2) Does she have a job?
3) What was her prior arrest?
4) What makes stealing Pokemon cards so compelling?
5) Is she a product of the social/economic time where it is hard to find a job w/o good skills?
6) What are the petty theft rates in South Carolina in the past few years given the recent unemployment rates?
7) What is the larger story?

These questions led me to wonder why WYFF.com feels compelled to update Facebook with something that I feel makes a marginal case as “news” or even “journalism”?

So Let’s define our terms:

1) News:
– Newly received or noteworthy information, esp. about recent or important events.
– A broadcast or published report of news.

2) Journalism
-The activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television.
-The product of such activity.

Ok, based on these definitions from Definitions.com, maybe it can be considered news…but journalism? Let’s see what the University of Missouri’s Journalism School defines as journalism. I found Walter William’s Journalistic Creed:

“I believe that the journalism which succeeds best—and best deserves success—fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power,constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.”

This definition led me to a a conversation between Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow Mike Fancher and students at the Missouri School of Journalism who tackle this question…they are trying to define the meaning of journalism:

“The concept of “conversation” may be perceived as part of accessibility. You’re no longer “looking down” upon your reader, or your audience, or citizens. You’re collaborating with them in the news process.”

Let’s go back to the Facebook status update, as of 6:30pm on 4/19/12, there were 44 comments. This status update created a conversation between WYFF.com and the “audience.”

MediaBistro.com shares this information:

“According to recent data, newspapers have just a single percentage point lead on social media as a source of reportage, with Facebook (59.5 percent), Twitter (19.9 percent) and YouTube (12.7 percent) leading the charge. Since 2009, traffic to news sites from social media channels has increased dramatically, and some 57 percent of adults who consume news via a digital device predominately use Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, journalism isn’t actually going away – it’s simply the medium that is changing. While social media empowers all of us to be the source, and to break the story, there will always be a high demand for quality reporting. But the way in which we digest that information is rapidly changing – and in this writer’s opinion, very much for the better.”

So are the lines between “old” and “new” media beginning to blur and converge more and more everyday? Social outlets like blogs are playing a huge role in how news outlets are engaging audiences, with more editorialized content.

“And while the Huffington Post has been getting more and more newspaper-like, entities such as the New York Times have been getting more blog-like: the relaunch of the medical section of the paper’s website, called Well, is just the latest in a series of similar relaunches that have turned sections of the NYT into blog-style portals.”

So is this status update news? Based on the definition above…Yes. Is this status update journalism? Some say yes and some say no. I say, where are the journalists at WYFF.com? Why are they not taking this simple status update, one that is being used as traffic drivers for content exploration, and take part in a little “investigative journalism.” Why not dig deeper into this story and use this content driver to a bigger story, the real heart of this story?

Or…should we just accept it at face value. It is not news, not journalism, and media outlets will always integrate content like this to generate clicks, driving traffic to the news they are covering. This type of sensationalized content is at the heart of the social metric of major news outlets. Because clicks leads to ad revenues.

So…let’s just accept in the journalistic space, there is a business side to the purest approach of reporting the news.
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Links and referenced articles used in this post:

Wikipedia for Journalism: Definition of Journalism

Walter William’s Journalistic Creed: Reynolds Journalism Institute

Reynolds Journalism Institute: “So you call yourself a journalist.” What does that mean?

MediaBistro.com: “How Social Media Is Replacing Traditional Journalism As A News Source”

Gigaom.com: “So can we stop talking about bloggers vs. journalists now?”

WYFF.com: “Report: Woman tries to steal Pokemon cards, wart remover”

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