Gatekeepers for the News

by

Gatekeepers

I still read at least two newspapers every day but I know I am a dying breed.

Most of the news people read on a daily basis come from: Twitter, Facebook, or an iPhone app which means people are digesting a strange hybrid of fact, fiction and hysteria.

Circulation figures of major newspapers are plummeting, reporters are being laid off, and mergers\acquisitions are becoming the trend – it seems the days of the old style newspapers is coming to an end.

But while several analysts and pundits have predicted the death of print it is imperative that newspapers survive and evolve in the years as the growth of social media and blogging continues apace.

Journalists have long considered themselves the gatekeepers of news for the public but with the advent of the internet, some would argue the information flow has been taken from the gatekeepers of mainstream news media but it can be argued that the opposite has in fact occurred. News has become compromised, barely distinguishable from rumour and idle gossip.

The news media’s gatekeeping role used to dictate the newsworthiness of an event – in terms of its importance and also its validity.

The rise of the unstoppable beast that is the internet means the media can no longer monitor what does and does not reach the public sphere. It is because of this that the task of gatekeeping has become more important than ever; the verification of facts and the reliability of sources is key.

While anyone with a keyboard can post a blog, it takes skill, aptitude, and a keen news sense to get to the heart of good reporting. And journalists are trained to do this.

There is a certain credibility that we attach to reporters that comes with knowledge or attention to detail. Most bloggers are not that diligent, knowledgeable or hardworking.

Newspapers and journalists are often called out by bloggers and trolls who believe they are not covering certain de rigour subjects circulating online adequately, but this only serves to reveal a distinct lack of knowledge of the ethical and legal constraints within the media sector.

I am not sure how many bloggers invest any significant amount of time on honing their craft and checking for facts and counter-facts, until they arrive at the truth. They also don’t have to care about litigation, yet because it is still a grey area online.

The recent controversy which surrounded an unfortunate young girl whose image ended up being circulated by both adults and children while performing a sex act at a Slane concert was a wholly terrifying and depressing example of how the internet is threatening our very freedom.

It also brought a whole new concept ‘Slut-shaming’ to the cultural lexicon.

It refers to the act of making a woman feel guilt or humiliation for participating in certain sexual practices. The Irish media was fairly quiet about the matter with #slanegirl appearing only on a couple of news reports once the matter became a subject of a Garda investigation.

This is because any decent newspaper editor knows that disseminating child pornography online is illegal also, there isn’t a journalist in the country who has not spoken to a devastated family who has lost a young person to suicide over the course of their career.

Journalists have always been the gatekeepers and I don’t think they should give up the keys just yet.

Edel O'Connell - Fuzion PREdel O’Connell is a Senior Account Manager with Fuzion and a former award winning journalist  and writer

Fuzion are a Marketing, PR and Graphic Design firm in Ireland with offices in Cork and Dublin 

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5 Responses to “Gatekeepers for the News”

  1. Fergal Bell Says:

    Some very good points, Edel. Responsible journalists play a very important role in qualifying information and getting it out to the general public. Non-mainstream news sources have their place but you always have to bear in mind that they are writing from a particular starting point and this often colours their view.

    The speed of social media sometimes seems to give stories not just legs but an engine as well!

  2. Howard Hughes Says:

    Hi Edel, thanks for taking the time to research and write this post on the demise of the printed word. It is a shame to see what was a craft now being unregulated and a free-for-all. The desire to be a micro celebrity has driven this new media.

    That said, I don’t believe the newspapers or the news media are in the business of reporting the truth. I think that is a romanticised notion of a time when only priests were able to read to share with the community. The values of reporting have changed greatly since then when business people discovered they could make a buck from it. “The news” as we, the public, receive it is heavily edited and carries with it a hidden agendum along with sensationalism to sell more copies. I know, I worked with hacks and the evidence is in the languaging of their articles.

    “It also brought a whole new concept ‘Slut-shaming’ to the cultural lexicon.

    It refers to the act of making a woman feel guilt or humiliation for participating in certain sexual practices.”

    Perhaps you should add “at a public event” here. That unfortunate’s choice to perform such an act at a concert and her subsequent trial by social media highlights the age that we live in. Even if there were no camera phones or even cameras present, would that make it alright to behave in such a way even if the event wasn’t recorded?

    There is a severe lack of accountability in today’s society. It suits some and others just don’t know any better. “Know for yourself” is something I always pass on to my clients and it’s nothing new. I’ll leave with this:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
    Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
    Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
    Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
    Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
    But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” Buddha

    (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

  3. Reporting on News, Events and People for Today’s Times | Cheri Speak Says:

    […] Gatekeepers for the News (fuzionblog.wordpress.com) […]

  4. Donal O'Byrne Says:

    Hi Edel, there certainly is a need for the public to be able to freely access reliable, factual balanced accounts of events. I am unsure how best to achieve this. Commercial newspapers, whether paper or online tend to be driven by profit making, which must inevitably skew coverage. How we define un skewed coverage isn’t an easy question. But I think that in many media it has been clearly demonstrated that commercial competition doesn’t produce better quality. More choice, of sorts, for sure but not better quality. In theory a form of “public service” news service could meet the requirement, however if funding for this is channelled through government, it’s hard to imagine the service maintaining its independence.
    It’s not the form of the media that produces the ” fact, fiction and hysteria” so much as the authors and audience and how they interact. The contribution of the newspapers to our property bubble is worth remembering.
    It is certainly imperative that we continue to have access to high quality reporting, but again I see no reason to suppose that newspapers are the sole, or even guaranteed, purveyors of unbiased truth. There will always rest with the consumer of “news” the responsibility to maintain a healthy skepticism.

    The fact that ” the media can no longer monitor ( control?) what does and doesn’t reach the public sphere” may not be a bad thing. I would rather have access to a wide variety of sources, no doubt including unreliable, biased, or even downright malicious content, than to be fed someone’s idea of what should or should not reach me. And there’s no doubt that there’s an awful lot of rubbish on Internet etc, but unfortunately there’s a lot of it in newspapers too.

    I am intrigued that a Marketing and PR professional would be so exercised about good quality news reportage, given that the aim of the profession is to maximise to positive perception by the public of their client ( or at least by their clients customers). This is not to imply that any individual Marketing / PR company is dishonest, but the role hinges on presenting a positively biased version of facts or opinion, and on convincing the audience that this is the only significant version.

    Thanks for keeping the debate alive and working to maintain awareness of the need for accurate, unbiased and well researched news.

  5. edelfuzion Says:

    Thanks Donal for your interest and your cogent arguments. My interest in this subject is I am a former journalist who has worked across a variety of national and regional newspapers for the past 12 years. I have interviewed countless families who have lost children to suicide following relentless campaigns of cyber bullying and sat with them in their devastation.
    I have changed roles now but my employers encourage freedom of expression and individuality regardless of the tenets of public relations.
    In fact, just last night we were awarded a national award for a special online safety tool called Safebook produced by our team to protect children from online bullying.
    I am not attempting to argue that every fact that emanates from a newspaper is reliable, relevant, eloquently put or in the public interest but I have, for many years like all journalists, suffered relentless assails from online commentators about the way certain issues have been reported on.
    Frustratingly, these frequently egregiously profane outbursts displayed a distinct lack of understanding for the ethical and legal constraints of journalism. Moreover, journalism is evolving rapidly into a hybrid of traditional and new media driven by vast economic and technological changes. Some of these trends have profound ethical import for journalism
    The new versus old media is not an argument I would usually engage in online as it is an endlessly tedious one. My point is, I think we need trained, knowledgeable and skilled journalists now more than ever in conjunction with online commentators, bloggers etc.
    Personally, I am incensed by the underbelly of the Internet which thrives on the naming and shaming of individuals, particularly young women who may have foolishly engaged in risky sexual behaviour while under the influence. The ruthlessness of some online commentary is breath taking at times.
    Unfortunately, online the mob is king and, to be honest nothing scares me more than a mob.

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