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Is Social Media Killing Impartiality?

Do Social Networks Mark The End of Traditional News?

Too many blogs nowadays seem preoccupied with simply pushing opinions onto the reader or indulging in the writer’s own petty qualms, just as there is far too much irate Twitter ranting and internet trolling. None of the above can be classed as journalism. So what does constitute a piece of journalistic writing and how are acts of journalism changing in the face of social media?

At its most cynical, publishing is no longer an industry but simply the click of a button. Leading journalist school Poynter, The Guardian, ex-BBC Directors and New York University academics have all interrogated the ethics behind modern journalism. Certainly, younger audiences are engaging less and less with traditional news, leading many to ask the question: in a world shaped by the heteroglossic nature of social media, is there any longer a place for impartial news?

Old fashioned journalism

Old media outlets like the BBC garner trust through an impartial and independent approach, acting more like contemporary historians examining the facts and drawing conclusions based on the evidence – that, and the fact that it was the only national news outlet available on television for 25 years or so (which takes us back to the importance of a multi-voiced community that is promoted by social media).

Academics like Jay Rosen criticise the impartiality so lauded by traditional journalists, saying it can lead to what he calls the ‘view from nowhere’, a no man’s land of (frankly boring) viewlessness. Even former Director at the BBC Richard Sambrook asks, in his excellent ‘Impartiality and Objectivity in the Digital Age’, if the emphasis on impartial news is actually an impediment to a free market in ideas?

The notion of a free market in ideas is one that will echo with fans of social media. There should not just be one news outlet and we are not just lucky, but entitled, to have a myriad of opinions and sources for news that are encouraged by the larger social networks. Journalism needs to be multi-voiced, something that social media purports; the culture behind social media is breeding a similar culture in the news sphere, where a more engaged and holistic perspective is encouraged.

There seems to be three approaches to news, which can be ordered chronologically:
  • Objectivity – the identification of facts and evidence.
  • Impartiality – the absence of bias or opinion about those facts.
  • Transparency – honesty about why one is presenting the facts in such a manner.

Current state of affairs

It is this final stage that sets the new paradigm for journalistic writing; transparency implies openness and accountability. Social media can both learn from this moving forward, and indeed help shape journalism to be more transparent. Thanks to social media anyone with internet access can air their opinion. This isn’t transparency in itself, but social media participation certainly helps with the democratising of political power that is elemental to media transparency.

Whereas old media achieved impartiality through objective methods, new media prefers plurality and transparency. This means, unlike the occasionally didactic tone of print journalism and traditional TV reporting, transparent journalism will admit when it doesn’t know all the information. News outlets today, particularly online, where digital and social are the name of the game, garner trust through their integrity about their potentially fallible narration. Social networks, if used properly, could offer a suitable arena for the future of journalism.

Journalists (our narrators for the digital age) must embrace this new style of news telling that favours transparency, strong analysis, opinion, a subjective standpoint, and at times, flat-out advocacy for one side of a debate.

Just head over to the Vice news website which, once the domain of wannabe hipsters, is now offering the type of engaging and transparent reporting that millennials are looking for; their documentary from inside an IS group is not only fascinating viewing but places the reader (or the viewer in this digital case) in closer contact to the situation on the ground than traditional print media ever could.

Where does social media fit into these changes?

Of course, opinions mustn’t come at the cost of factual evidence. This buzz word ‘transparency’ doesn’t change the primary goal of journalism – to seek truth and report it as fully as possible. This is where social media may struggle to become a source for truly transparent writing, as too often jumped-up opinions litter social networks. Personal interests must not come at the cost of factual evidence, and Kellie Riordan notes that ‘transparency alone is not a get-out-of-jail-free card’. Evidence is at the core of all journalism, whether it comes from think tanks, corporations, researchers or social media contributors. Those on social media particularly should strive more towards sticking to the facts; evidence is at the core of all journalism, be it objective, impartial or transparent. It is the synthesis of fact which sets a piece of journalism above yet another blog rant.

This isn’t to say that blogs can’t be journalistic – indeed, journalism should no longer solely exist in print newspapers – but it is a pre-requisite that any act of news reporting, no matter where it is published, is based on evidence. Audiences still rely on journalists to distil complex facts, filter through information and present it concisely.

If transparent journalism is the new paradigm, then it is likely to be associated and published on digital platforms and social media. We are operating in an age where honest and open communication is highly regarded and where engagement and interaction is valued, as opposed to being spoon fed headlines. Social media networks perform well in this respect, as it gives tech-savvy audiences a platform and motivation to be active in current affairs.

This is why news outlets are increasingly emerging on social networks, such as LinkedIn’s excellent Pulse network. More than ever, time pushed parents and ADD millennials require transparent news in digestible form – social media networks could be the answer to this.

Katie Rowley 

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

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Is Social Media Killing Impartiality? Reviewed by Anonymous on Monday, September 08, 2014 Rating: 5
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