An Open Letter to the Media

Dear Media Outlets Everywhere,

As a journalism major and a senior in college, I am at the point where I have to really start focusing on my future. I need to find a job, and believe it or not I’d love to find a place in a hectic, unorganized newsroom writing the stories of my city. As crazy as it sounds, the fast-paced world of news reporting actually relaxes me, and the deadlines are something I crave.

But as much as I love the profession I’ve chosen, I’m beginning to wonder if writing for a newspaper is worth it. Why? Because the newsroom is starting to move too fast for my liking.

In the last 10 years or so, the newsroom has developed into this 24-hour, seven day a week competition to discover and deliver the news the fastest. This newfangled newsroom is called “convergent journalism.” Everything is moving to online, which in turn results in the news being posted all day, every day, without regard for anything or anyone.

This means that as soon as big news breaks, there’s a battle royale that erupts in newsrooms around the country. They jump on the story as soon as it breaks, allowing us to receive our news soon after it happens instead of having to wait a day or more. So why is this new convergent journalism approach such a problem?

Well, it wouldn’t be if it meant newsrooms were holding on to the one thing that I valued the most about journalism writing: telling the story accurately. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen articles come out saying, “FBI has identified the killer from today’s events,” and then not even 10 minutes later another headline saying, “Just kidding – FBI declines statements, false information received.”

The media is so caught up in being the first to release information to the public that they begin to publish information that may not be coming from reputable sources, and that concerns me. I understand the importance of releasing breaking news as soon as you have the facts right, but to post something without fact checking is a journalism faux pas.

When you put things in the news that aren’t true, especially when it involves the reputation of an innocent person, it’s even worse. One example of this is when the media had falsely identified the Boston Marathon bombing suspects four times – yes, four – before they finally discovered the true terrorists. Big names in the media caught on to details they heard from various sources and published them without fact checking. The New York Post was hit the hardest, latching on to two false identities and plastering it all over their website.

Another situation that wasn’t as bad, but still clarifies the point was during the Newtown shootings. CNN was the first of many outlets to report that the shooter was Ryan Lanza, the brother of the actual killer Adam Lanza. Even worse is that some sites went to Facebook to link to a profile of the “supposed” Ryan Lanza. Turns out he was in no way related to the Lanza’s that were making headlines, and because of their lack of fact checking, Ryan was harassed via Facebook.

So here is my proposition to the media: slow down. Take a moment to breath, to obtain the facts. It doesn’t matter if you were first to report the breaking news if all your facts are wrong. It takes research and fact checking to create a groundbreaking story, and if you sacrifice your fact checking for hearsay, then what do we have left as journalists?

We should pride ourselves in our ability to weave together eye catching stories that give the facts and truth to our readers. There isn’t anything I love more than being able to write the true stories of amazing events, people and communities. I even find thrill in the investigative work of writing a story that may not have the happiest of endings.

Now, in today’s newsroom, we are at the equivalent of running a full out sprint for an entire race. By the time we look back to see what’s going on, it’s already been published and the damage is done.

Do I think that the media will slow down? Definitely not. The media will continue to find better ways to obtain the news faster than ever before, leaving reporters in situations where they accidentally accuse innocent people. It’s a sad, but honest truth.

I just hope that journalists remember that they are writing the truth; that they are writing non-fiction. When you sacrifice the facts and the truth, we are left with fiction. If readers wanted fiction they’d pick up a book, not a newspaper.

Sincerely,

A concerned, aspiring journalist

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