Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Overwhelmed by Mis-Information

A few years back I was invited by the University of Maryland to attend a discussion about the future of sports journalism.  The panel was comprised of a collection of well respected media personalities, broadcasters and reporters, including ESPN's Scott Van Pelt -- a fellow Terrapin graduate.

It came time for Q&A and I asked Van Pelt if the pressure of producing and publishing content in Internet time had led to a decline in the accuracy of news reporting.  Specifically, I referenced ESPN's faulty report on football star Terrell Owens' attempted suicide

Understandably, Van Pelt defended his employer citing a police report as the source material for ESPN's reporting of this breaking news.

It wasn't the time or place to dive deeper into this issue, yet I would have made the point that perhaps someone from ESPN should have contacted Owens or the Dallas Cowboys (the team he played for at the time) for confirmation.  That's reporting, right?

A couple of recent developments brought this interaction with Van Pelt to mind:

1.  Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise's month long suspension for knowingly sharing misinformation via Twitter to prove how inaccurate news spreads like a plague on the Internet.

2.  A good friend and former client self-publishing on Pitch Engine to combat a damaging profile in the Washington Business Journal.

3.  My colleague and partner Chris Parente tackling a client-related public relations issue created by near negligent reporting by the USA Today.

I am an ardent believer that there has been a shift in influence from traditional sources of information and credibility (i.e. news media, industry analyst firms and conferences) to the content and discussions in social networks and online communities. 

It's why Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) has reinvented its business during the past three years, transitioning from a public relations consultancy to a provider of social media marketing services.

Yet, I recognize the importance the business, sports, news and trade press have in shaping discussion and debate.  Personally, I'd be lost without the insight and analysis from BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Computerworld, Informationweek and the Washington Post.

This is why the precipitous decline in the quality and accuracy of news reporting is so disconcerting.  It will accelerate the importance of social networks which is beneficial for Strategic. 

However, I worry that the lack of credible, editor-reviewed content will leave us all overwhelmed by misinformation.


David Spinks said...

It's a tough issue to discuss. There seems to be a major disconnect between the information that people say they want (honest, truthful etc...) and the information that they seek out and support.

People are turning to twitter, blogs and other social platforms for their news and information more and more. If you're worried about traditional media not fact checking, then the concept of bloggers becoming a leading source for news must be terrifying. Bloggers won't fact check most of the time. It's a free for all in the blogosphere and on twitter.

I wrote more on this topic a while back if you want to check it out. http://davidspinks.com/2010/03/22/true-information-worthless/

Come Follow Me said...

Great post Marc, but I think it's more complicated than that. I wince every time I get a call from a reporter who asks me, "So, what does your agency do?" as they follow up on an egregious report or critical incident that involves a death. I was a newspaper editor for a number of years before I jumped ship and went to the other side. As a government communications professional, I wonder where this reporter was trained, if at all; if they lost all common sense, preventing them from doing a quick Google check to see what my agency does; and most of all, where the heck is the reporter's editor? This happens more than I care to count. Resources are scarce, especially for my colleagues still trying to run small- and medium-sized daily community newspapers and that challenge butts right up against the fierce competition for information distribution. I don't envy them. And I don't disagree with you, Marc. Social media is yet another force that newsrooms all over, no matter what size, have to deal with. Quality, review, accuracy and institutional experience have all gone out the window along with the baby's bath water. But like I said, I think it's complicated. I love your blog, btw, I'll be following! Many thanks for your insight.