Making and taking the news, from Iran to AP and MPR

Two examples from today’s headlines illustrate important issues in the heated debates about what journalism is, could be, and should be.

1) Iran and Twitter and Facebook and all of that — Of course, much of our information is coming from these social media, new media and non-traditional sources, but how do we know what is accurate? What tools can we use to sort through a mountain of reports that includes, by my last count, dozens of tweets per minute on just one hashtag, #iranelections.

Yesterday The Atlantic “reported” the story by posting an apparently unmoderated and unanalyzed Twitter feed. Jon Stewart skewered CNN for its breathless reporting on social media, long on direct quotes from Facebook and Twitter and short on analysis and verification. CNN is an easy target, but news media, including mainstream media, need to remember that their job is seeking and reporting facts and reliable information and that an unmediated flow of tweets is just one more source, not the end of the story.

Even while we recognize the important role of Twitter and Facebook in giving a voice to repressed political activists, we should also remember that the vast majority of Iranians lack any access to these tools. As U of M prof William O. Beeman told MinnPost, Ahmadinejad’s base is in poor and rural Iranians, who make up a huge portion of the country and the electorate, most of whom lack computer access, and are not being heard in the current worldwide social media newsfest.

2) Is there a difference between reporting and blogging? One of the common critiques of “new media” is that it consists of bloggers who just re-use newspaper reporting. While I would contend that there’s a lot more to new media than bloggers and social media, the criticism wears thin when traditional media outlets print reports that consist solely of restatements of other media reporting.

One prime example is this morning’s AP report, titled “Activist says she asked missing Somali men to stay.” The AP article, printed in both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press, consists solely of paraphrases and direct quotes from yesterday’s original MPR reporting, interspersed with “she told the radio station” nods to the MPR story.

Now, in my book, that’s not reporting. It’s not even blogging. Good blogging means giving credit and links to your source — not paraphrasing their story and pretending it’s your own.

What makes this story even more ironic is that AP has been stomping its rather large media feet and threatening to sue bloggers and other media outlets for printing short excerpts from its stories.

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