independent

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Celebrate your local newspaper in the age of fake Facebook news

By david looby

Tiger Woods in happier times
Tiger Woods in happier times

I HAVE to admit some bias here, but newspapers are more important today than ever before.

In the era of Donald Trump and fake news, where do you turn for your stories? Two stories jumped out at me over recent days whch reaffirmed my appreciation for local newspapers. The lowest common denominator in both was social media. One involved a man who was wrongly identified as a paedophile allegedly roaming the country. The other concerned golfer Tiger Woods, culminating in the unfortunate mugshot of his famous visage, which fronted many websites and newspapers last week.

The phenomenonal impact social media has on our lives becomes clearer by the day. As soon as both stories broke, social media went wild, with people sharing the stories in a rush to be the first to break the news, once the reserved right (and duty) of newspapers.

At its height you have citizen journalism, used effectively by news TV channels across the world and websites like Storyful. On the flipside everyone with a smartphone has become an expert photographer and social commentator. The question posed is where does this leave traditional journalism?

Does it make reporters like me redundant?

Businesses, companies and individuals make announcements on websites like Facebook and Twitter, from babies being born, right through to job announcements, event cancellations and deaths. People can comment on these events and, in doing so, a Chinese whispers effect often occurs, causing the truth to become opaque and distorted. Tiger Woods was pegged as a hopeless alcoholic, quicker than he could shave and wash his face on Monday morning, as his mugshot was long gone from his local police station.

People and news reporters playing gods cast down their judgments on him, sticking knives into his admittedly battered reputation, from the comfort of their smartphones and tablets.

Meanwhile the man who was mistaken for a notorious child abuser fell foul of countless comments on Facebook, after a commenter mistakenly (and recklessly) posted his picture on the Kildare Now Facebook page.

David Murray was falsely identified as convicted child abuser Anthony Luckwill under an article about Luckwill being in the area. Murray was then confronted by a group of six adults, aged in their late 30s to mid 40s, who verbally abused him outside Supervalu.

Friends of mine shared the article, and there is always a rush to share such articles, whether they are about a man in a white van, who was seen trying to aduct a child in some rural village.

Being in the media game, I'm skeptical about many of these stories, especially when the gardaí have not issued an appeal.

You see citizen journalists are not trained in the craft of reporting. Leaving aside the inevitable grammatical errors and horrendous spelling, many people post or share 'news' items, whose provenance is everything from complete rubbish to bias, to having vested commercial interests.

The local newspaper you are holding now may not be perfect, but stories are checked, weighed up, agonised over and discussed before being committed to print. The agenda is talkability, representing the community and news worthiness. There are consequences if we get something wrong and as a result caution is the guiding principle, not a dopamine ego rush.

Wexford People