Chen Ping-hung is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University’s Graduate Institute of Mass Communication..
In my living room, I can watch video footage from dashboard cameras, security cameras and social media any time I please: All I have to do is turn on the TV and go to any news channel between 49 and 58, and endless footage captured by dashboard cameras, security cameras and copied from the Internet will be showing.
However, if I want to see news that is actually important, such as implications of the recent Cabinet reshuffle, there will be nothing on TV, because although such programs provide “news,” they have no meaningful content.
I have no interest in knowing which minister is the president’s cousin. If they need to bring it up, then do so in passing, rather than making it the main story. I care more about a minister’s position on major policy, but that information does not seem to be available.
Since when does writing a news story no longer require the reporter to do research and conduct interviews? A reporter today can easily produce a story by looking through video footage from car and security cameras or browsing the Internet, but is this the real story, or is it just material that should be used as part of a story? Can most reporters tell the difference?
In my journalism class, I do not allow students to use anonymous Internet sources, because it is a reporter’s responsibility to make sure their sources are reliable. Even more important is to determine whether the source is qualified to comment on the news at hand, because not everyone is.
My students question my approach, wondering why they must follow these rules when reporters in the field seem to ignore them.
Am I wrong to teach my students these principles? Should I not insist that they fact-check and make sure their sources are reliable? Are teachers to be blamed for this kind of reporting, or is it the social climate?
Since when does a Facebook post about one’s feelings or opinions qualify as news? Again, that is material to be used in reports, not the actual news.
However, Facebook posts, including one mourning the death of an old friend, have been treated as news.
One journalist even reported that an important figure was sick from a Facebook post. If these news reports are wrong, journalists have to apologize. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for important people to make announcements through an official spokesperson. Why should private social media posts be treated as news?
When someone posts on their private account that a famous person has died or makes assumptions about their health, reporters often do not verify that information with a credible source, such as that person’s public relations office. The reporter can take the post at face value and report it as news.
Even when the person making the post is a celebrity, that does not mean they have the authority to represent another person. The reporter can cite the post, but it cannot be the entire story, because the person making the post is not a qualified source.
Likewise, whenever a reporter wants to cite a Facebook post about a famous person dying or feeling ill, they should fact-check the information with their public relations representative.
Just because the Facebook user is well-known or is a public figure does not mean that their information is correct, especially if the information they provide has nothing to do with their job.
Many people today use social media to share information, and any user, whether intentionally or unintentionally, could become a source or even the main story.
Does this mean that social media users should take a step back and think about what they are doing, or that reporters and media outlets should reflect on how they report the news?
Unless a post is related to the writer’s job, or the user happens to be authorized to comment on public issues, private posts should not be treated as news. Surely a reporter should have the ability to tell the difference between news material and a news story.
While working in the news media, I was lucky enough to win a Golden Tripod Award for reporting, and now I teach journalism at a university. Nevertheless, I still wonder when TV news turned into a relay station for dashboard cameras, security cameras and social media. Is it just an unexpected result of technical convergence?
Some might say that academics sit in ivory towers, but I still have to ask how can the fundamental character and definition of “news” be changed just because of a few difficulties? That is something I do not understand, and I will never play along.