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K-State Today

January 30, 2012

Online and informed: When it comes to social media, professor says the pros outweigh the cons for journalists

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

In today's social media world, news can spread in 140 characters or less. But the expectations of honesty and integrity in news reporting shouldn't change, even if the type of media reporting it has, according to a Kansas State University professor.

"The pros of social media are far better than the cons," said Bonnie Bressers, associate professor of journalism at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications. "But the rules of ethics have to be applied regardless of platform."

The problem, according to Bressers, is not the invasion of privacy, as some people argue, but that when a news story uses a quotation from a social media site, there is no way to be sure who the information really came from.

"Social media creates an illusion of privacy," she said, "but it isn't really there. That's something that people need to realize. However, information on social networking sites can be the journalistic equivalent of water cooler gossip, and it is important that information is vetted in the same way it was before the rise of social media."

One of the most revolutionary aspects of social media is the speed at which it makes information available. Yet this immediacy of information can also make breaking news error-prone, particularly in cases of tragedies or natural disasters, Bressers said.

"Part of the fabric of disaster is the public clamoring for immediate information," Bressers said.

Now, with any headline-worthy event, journalists turn to social media to find people who may have been involved -- similar to journalists flocking to the scene of a disaster. Millions use Facebook and Twitter worldwide, giving journalists access to numerous sources.

Using social media for breaking news isn't necessarily negative, Bressers said, as long as the public realizes that information reported immediately following an event might be more prone to the occasional miss-print.

"I hope that media consumers are becoming more educated," she said. "Social media has created an understanding that journalists are accessible to the public, but it has also shortened the news cycle, which conditions people to continue to expect news the minute an event happens. We all need to realize that in the heat of the moment there will be inaccuracies."

In any case, social media and the changes it has brought with it are not likely to go away any time soon.

"We can't stop it," Bressers said. "I don't even think we can slow it down. All we can do is acknowledge and accept social media."