The journalist’s role is to discover the truth and report it in a balanced and fair way. We must deal with concrete occurrences and people’s reactions to incidents and have a responsibility to separate unconscious bias and opinions from actual facts. Social media has expanded the way in which news is delivered – everything is instantaneous and unregulated. It has adapted in a way that means journalists must be careful about the sources they choose to use as well as how they report.
Watching Four Corners, Media Watch and Q&A consecutively on Monday nights enriched my learning process during the semester. Creating an active Twitter account has changed my perspective on the app I once considered futile. I once thought it was a tool for people to talk about their own lives, but upon completing the Understanding Journalism course, I realise how useful it is to keep up to date with the current news and to keep others educated and aware.
I engaged mostly on Twitter, as I felt Twitter was a more casual and informal platform, as opposed to G+, which I personally found slightly intimidating. I never posted anything on G+ myself, rather, I preferred to play a more passive role and simply comment on what I agreed or disagreed with. I did enjoy utilising G+ and found myself constantly refreshing it during the three programs in order to keep up to date with new articles and links that would enhance my understanding of each subject matter for the set topic of that week.
There were slight issues around real-time engagement with the platforms. I personally did not enjoy watching television while multi tasking on my laptop and phone. It was part of the requirement, however, so I kept the three tabs open on my laptop, put my phone aside, and focused on finding the perfect sources to quote in my tweets. At times, I found the whole process quite stressful, especially when the steady-paced Four Corners melded into the fast-paced chaos that is Media Watch. Engaging on Twitter had quite a large impact on my ability to fully participate in the three programs. Every few weeks, I would limit my activity on each platform. This was usually when I had not immersed myself in many news programs that week and therefore I felt as if I was only hearing about the topics for the first time. On these occasions, I preferred to sit and watch the programs, rather than anxiously type away on Twitter. In the future, I will change my interaction with these platforms in order to gain more from them. Rather than becoming distracted by new tweets that have been posted and reading various articles while the program is still running, I will perhaps focus on one platform at a time, for example, will only focus on reporting live updates on twitter one week rather than spending time commenting my own thoughts on others tweets. I would also like to post more relating to Q&A specifically, as I found that since it was the last program, my attention had usually swayed. I will also set intentions to post more on G+ and dedicate some weeks to multi tasking with watching the programs and finding useful articles to read. I think trying to combine G+, Twitter, watching the programs and browsing the internet for further information was a bit too overwhelming for me, and perhaps in time I will become accustomed to multi tasking and will be able to do it all simultaneously with less stress!
Engaging on the various platforms also gave me some perspective as to some of the issues professional journalists face.
I found it difficult to remain unbiased and impartial on Twitter during some programs, such as the Four Corners episode that exposed the truth about Safari Tourism and how hunters pay in order to kill the ‘big game’ – lions, rhinos and elephants, with some animals being bred specifically to be hunted. For these types of episodes where I felt personally affected, my tweets consisted of my own opinions on the issue. I also noticed a pattern developing in the UJ community, where most students would report on what was occurring, however every so often would post their own thoughts on the issue. Although not the set task, as we were instructed to be objective, I felt it was important for us to be able to express our thoughts, even though as journalists it is our responsibility to post what is true and accurate.
Stephen Lamble, however, states in News As It Happens that ‘muddling news and opinion in the same article or broadcast can be legally dangerous’ and that mixing the two can ‘damage a journalist’s and news outlet’s credibility.’
I know now it is important for journalists to be careful with expressing their own viewpoints, because it is not their job to change public perception, but simply to report facts. Journalists should present a balanced view of the world, so that their viewers can make up their own minds about certain issues. The ‘Agenda Setting Theory’ developed by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw describes the ability of the media to set the agenda and frame it in a certain way, in order that they are told what to think about. It is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues.
Many dilemmas arise for journalists due to the conflict created by our responsibility to principles such as full disclosure and accuracy, yet we also have a duty to be sensitive to those we report about and to do no harm. For example, we must be accurate, yet we are not allowed to disclose the method of suicide.
Mindframe provides access to information to ‘support the reporting, portrayal and communication about suicide and mental illness.’ They provide resources on how to report suicide and have certain recommendations journalists should follow due to ethical reasons. The media are careful not to romanticise suicide and this involves not disclosing the details of method. Lamble states that a majority of suicides go unreported, unless there is ‘a strong public benefit, or unless a high-profile personality takes her or his own life.’
Mindframe also advises to reduce prominence, as vulnerable audiences may be drawn to stories about suicide. They implore media organisations to ‘consider placing a story on the inside pages of a newspaper’ or ‘further down the order of broadcast reports and removing ‘suicide’ from headlines and search terms.’ Journalists also have a responsibility to take care when interviewing family and friends who have been affected by the events they are reporting on. When talking to people who have been touched by trauma, we must ask ourselves whether the questions are appropriate and if our tone is respectful. In terms of a very traumatic case, family members may be hesitant to be interviewed, and rather than pressure these victims of trauma to speak up and inflict more damage, it is the journalist’s responsibility to ensure that the quest for a good angle on a story does not override our ethical duties.
In order to ‘do no harm’, news programs and journalists are required to provide appropriate numbers for the relevant issue. For example, if a program airs a segment on teen suicide, the organisation must provide a number specifically for ‘Kids Helpline’ as it is appropriate for that age group. This is important as vulnerable audiences may tune into the program and be influenced by the content. It is for this reason that our duty to ‘do no harm’ is so important – whether journalists have a large viewership or not, the fact that social media is not completely regulated means people can post whatever they want, and this can harm these susceptible audiences.
Overall, I enjoyed tuning in on Monday nights and felt a part of the G+ community. I became more involved and interested in news around the world and even felt more informed than some of my friends and family. I could therefore educate or discuss with them all the extra information I had acquired from watching all three news programs, as well as from completing my own research. I specifically enjoyed being a part of the Twitter community and felt a real rush when my tweet was once reposted by the official Four Corners account. I have acquired new skills that I know I will be able to utilise as a professional journalist in the future.
 Lamble, S, 2013. News As It Happens. 2nd ed. Australia: Oxford University Press