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Trolls, Spin and the Boundaries of Trust by Dan Gillmor sheds light on many ethical issues digital journalists are facing.  When using the Internet as a news medium, reporters and editors need to be very aware of what they’re publishing, who is commenting on their content and who their tips are coming from.

I think Gilmor’s five best tips for reporters were:

  1. Never trust an Internet source without double checking it – As we saw in class this week, many websites and inforgraphics give information that contradict other websites.  It’s always important to know who is publishing the content (and to decide if they may have a hidden agenda).
  2. Most people are too dense to pick up on satire – When people read articles, whether they are online or in print, many of them will not be able to pick up on satire or sarcasm without actually hearing the writer’s tone of voice.  The Internet makes it really easy to copy and paste quotes from online articles and send them off to friends and colleagues, and if a satirical comment is taken out of context, it could make a newspaper look bad.
  3. Do not remove vital/true information from a photo or video – Though a photo or video may look better or run smoother if certain things are edited out, it’s not okay to manipulate a piece of art if it changes the meaning or reality.
  4. Think about what a source has to gain from doing an interview – Do not use press releases verbatim or as the only source for an article.  For example, if the press release is coming from a political candidate, make sure to interview his or her opposition for the story too.  Articles shouldn’t simply be free advertising for a company or campaign.
  5. Check comments for spam – “Spinners” or people who comment on an online article  simply to stir the pot should be monitored closely.  Many may have an agenda or many may be trying to corrupt the site.  Additionally, people who present tip offs in comments should have their credentials checked before the tip is pursued.
I think these two pieces can be summed up in one sentence:  The people have taken the decision power from the CEOs.  This isn’t news.  Consumers know exactly what they want, and whatever market fails to produce that specific product is out of  luck.  This theme spands across the board.  For example, people demanded a smart phone, and after Apple delivered the iPhone, Verizon was forced to come out with the Droid in order to compete.  Global warming began trending years ago, and therefore car companies were forced to come out with hybrid vehicles like the Toyota Prius.  The same rules apply to journalism, and both of these pieces, Mark Briggs’ “Journalism 2.0” and the Cluetrain Manefesto’s “95 theses,” stress that point.
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As Briggs wrote, “Web publishers are creating platforms instead of content.”  At least that’s their goal.  In order for news sites to be successful, they now have to cater to their audiences and allow them to feel heard.  There are numerous ways of accomplishing those objectives.  One of the simplest methods is to ask the people what they want.  Allow readers to comment on stories, e-mail reporters or hold round table discussions with community members.  I think one of the best ways to get the audience involved is to let members produce content directly.  For example, the San Francisco Chronicle lets readers keep blogs on its site  on different topics like food and travel.  The author(s) of the theses also agree on this point.  Thesis No. 34 reads, ” To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.”
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After reading through the four articles, I found myself a little disappointed with newspaper journalists (I also found myself wanting to switch majors). It seems most journalists prefer to dwell on problems rather than expel the energy needed to solve them.

Jon Talton mentioned in his piece, “What’s really wrong with newspapers,” that newspaper editors are devoting a lot of time to creating new editorial features to attract non-readers.  I have noticed a lot of this going on during my internships with Seattle publications, but unlike Talton who thinks this habit is damaging the papers, I think it is leading them in the right direction.  Talton argues that instead of developing new products to attract people who aren’t necessarily interested in reading the news in the first place, editors should be using their resources to enhance the content that pleases existing readers.  However, I don’t think that strategy would keep newspapers afloat.  What’s needed is a combination of the two strategies.

For example, Seattlepi.com is doing a good job of employing both (with about 20 staff members).  In this era of online news sites, it is extremely important to bring new readers to the page.  Many sites are sustained through advertising, and papers make more money when they get more mouse clicks on their site.  The P-I introduces new editorial features often such as celebrity photo galleries, innovative page designs, new sections and infographics.  However, its reporters continue to crank out popular articles to keep loyal readers.  Those editors who truly believe they only have time for one strategy or the other need to reorganize their staff … or see the beauty in taking on college interns.

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