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Our View: Social media no substitute for journalism

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Rocky Mount Telegram

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Have the internet and social media replaced the need for local newspapers?

The answer is no.

The internet has opened up access to a whole world of information and is a valuable tool for communication of information, ideas and opinions. It is hard to imagine going back to a world where answers have to come primarily from the printed word.

Social media allows us all to connect with one another in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. We can share pictures, information and opinions at amazing speeds, and that information — whether true or false — is out there, almost immediately, for all to see.

But all information is not the same. And thoughts and opinions shared in haste often can do more harm than good.

Social media sites can share information heard on police scanners and post press releases quickly — usually more quickly than newspapers can. In a world demanding quick fixes, this can make social media sites appear “better” than traditional journalism.

Because true journalism takes time. And effort. And research. And investigation.

Journalists must develop relationships with authoritative sources, contact them to verify the truth of reported incidents, dig for the details, double check for accuracy and assemble that information in a coherent, readable form.

Journalists cannot report raw information reported by distressed people over radio frequencies because that information can often be inaccurate or misleading.

True journalists are held to a higher standard than “citizen journalists.” They can’t solicit rumors and opinions and try to represent them as fact. They can’t post information and then hide from the public as a nameless, faceless entity. They must attach their name to their work and be willing to stand behind it in a court of law, if it comes to that.

They must act responsibly when reporting information.

Many people ignore the value that local newspapers offer. Want to know what really happened with that crime that was posted on a social media site? The local newspaper usually can provide the answer, but you may have to wait awhile to get it — because journalists have to investigate it and track down and question public officials to get to the truth.

Want to know what is really going on in the local elections? The paper has the answer. Want to know how the local food truck fair went? The paper has the answer. Want to know what happened at the local football game? The paper has the answer.

Social media sites have their place in society and offer a valuable public forum for sharing information and ideas. We have seen that value recently as a local social media site was instrumental in bringing a criminal to justice.

But these sites also sometimes do harm by disseminating information that turns out later to be false or only half true. Relying on them as your sole source of information often can be frustrating and lead to false conclusions.

So read the social media sites. Participate in the discussions in a responsible way. And then pick up the paper or click on the link you have saved to its website — where you will find the rest of the story.

— Rocky Mount Telegram

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