As you may remember from a previous issue of The Press (Vol. 34, Issue 2) we started off the semester on rocky ground with Stony Brook Athletics. An editorial published on this very page grabbed the attention of a blogger from College Media Matters and then The Huffington Post. Our editorial, written in a fit of rage over the treatment of our photographer, was a sort of commentary on the give-and-take relationship between journalists and public relations officials. The self-righteousness that our piece seemed to stir up in other media outlets caused a lot of fact-checking and actual reporting to fall through the cracks.
The College Matters post cited the editorial and another article written by the Student Press Law Center, who quoted The Press’ managing editor. However, the post written on College Media Matters made several factual inaccuracies (such as saying that The Press publishes once a week, instead of every other week, etc.), and failed to reach out to the athletics department for comment. The result is a very one-sided article that left a lot of reporting to be desired.
After the publishing of the College Media Matters article, The Huffington Post essentially “reblogged” this article and featured it on their website, drawing the debacle into the national spotlight.
Given that the original article published on College Media Matters had a number of inaccuracies, this calls into question the integrity of online publications such as The Huffington Post.
In light of the unwanted attention this piece brought to SB Athletics, and the fact that they have not been asked to speak on the matter, we feel it necessary to clarify this in our own editorial, and address some things we have learned since it its publication.
First: the athletics department was unsure whether the person tweeting for The Press was in the press box or not, which led to a great deal of confusion for both parties involved. Had the tweeter been in the press box, the athletics department would have been right to be upset that a spot reserved for a reporter, was being for a satirical spin on the football game.
Following a meeting with the athletics department earlier last week, they stressed to The Press that in no way did they intend to sound threatening when approaching our photographer on the field. They were simply trying to gain a better understanding of the situation, which was misread.
However, out of the fallout that has resulted from this incident, another greater issue has risen to the surface: journalistic integrity.
Is this the direction that modern journalism is heading in? Imagine a world where every publication simply copies from others, without ever checking to make sure the information is accurate. It would be impossible to tell truth from lie, fact from fiction, and so on.
It seems that today everyone and their mother has a blog about something, whether it be about food, cats, or how angry the New York Knicks make you. There’s so much content published, and so few people who truly know how to ensure that what they’re publishing online is accurate and reliable.
Publications used to build their reputation on accuracy and reliability, but is this no longer the case? It seems that all that really matters anymore is which website or blog can spit out as much content as fast as possible.
Still, even with modern technology and the ever-evolving field of journalism, a certain professional standard needs to remain. Sources need to be verified, facts still need to be checked. The medium of publication may have changed, but the method in producing content shouldn’t.
Still there exists legacy publications such as The New York Times and The Washington Post that have gone to great lengths to try to adapt to online journalism, and have succeeded in many ways. Odds are these publications will always exist, in one way or another, but their accurate reporting and journalistic standards may one day be overshadowed by mindless, stream-of-consciousness, inaccurate dribble.
This is never a more important issue than now, especially with the announcement last week that Newsweek will cease production of its print publication at the end of 2012. Newsweek will be moving towards an all digital format, the first of major publications to make such a drastic change.
Given that one such major publication has made the switch, it seems a mass migration to entirely digital content is on the way. During this period of change it is important that already existing publications and future ones as well, remember that in order for journalism to truly remain the fourth estate in American society, there has to exist some level of standard and accuracy.
Without those qualities we as readers are left to our own devices to discern between fact and fiction. That, of course, could have horrendous consequences.