“Integrity, being right before being first, is the only thing genuine journalists have left in this world,” Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise said recently.
And as the eternal drive toward breaking news and uncovering scoops approaches warp speed with mass media’s embrace of Twitter, this quote is a hearty reminder of journalism’s core value. But it’s also important to place it in its proper context, as Wise immediately followed this assertion by saying, “It pains me to say my own stupid, irresponsible experiment ironically has cost me a chunk of my own credibility today.”
Wise delivered this statement the day after posting an intentionally erroneous scoop to his Twitter followers, saying that troubled NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would receive a reduced five-game suspension from the league in place of the six-game ban the NFL had previously announced. Wise administered the hoax to demonstrate how social media platforms such as Twitter have lowered journalistic standards of accuracy and fact-checking; unsurprisingly, given his longstanding credibility and the Post byline that accompanied the “scoop”, the news quickly made the internet rounds, thus proving his point while earning him a one-month suspension of his own from the Post.
Misguided and careless as it may have been, Wise’s stunt nonetheless raises an interesting question: are social media platforms threatening to undermine journalists’ integrity?
Nearly a month after Wise’s Twitter debacle, another journalist operating under a similarly venerable umbrella of traditional media made an intriguing admission that suggests, well, yes. Jon Friedman, senior columnist for MarketWatch, part of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, wrote a commentary entitled “Facebook, Twitter are making me wimpy” whereby he admitted that Twitter and Facebook -- and the attendant professional “relationships” forged through them -- may be causing him to lose his journalistic edge. As he asserts, “I worry that I’m getting a little too familiar with people I should keep a professional distance from. And in turn, I’m letting them become too chummy with me. They generally act like we’re old college buddies while hoping to influence what I write in my columns.”
On one hand, this is a concerning admission; Friedman may be among the few willing to verbalize such a concern, but it also calls attention to how many other professional journalists must be grappling with similar issues in private. Similarly, how many -- if any at all -- have already succumbed to the “chumminess effect” of Twitter and Facebook? However, there’s a flipside to this dilemma too. Perhaps by publicly airing such concerns, Friedman may also be aiding journalism by allowing a sense of transparency to accompany his work. After all, the idea that reporting exists in a truly objective vacuum has been called to task time and again, even from the editor of Time Magazine.
What do you think? Does social media compromise journalistic integrity or promote transparency? Is the golden age of journalism gone for good or has the landscape shifted for the better?