By Elisabeth Turner Columnist
With a presidential election in the near future, journalists across the nation - as well as Hofstra students - are getting ready. They are conducting candidate research, energizing for the non-stop coverage and debates preceding voter outcome. As immediacy and cost-effectiveness continue to increase in news value, social media will play a huge role in the public’s ability to gather and analyze the dynamics of the presidential candidates’ competition and message.
These days, journalists are pressured by shorter, collapsing deadlines. Some professionals, like a newspaper editor quoted in Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method, 7th Edition, worry that “there is too much emphasis … on getting information fast even at the expense of accuracy, thoroughness and fairness.” One need not look hard to see the fallacies that a belief in the supremacy of immediacy can cause. Take, for example, the recent controversy on a Niall Ferguson cover story in Newsweek. What was supposedly printed as a factually referenced article turned out to be a feature sprinkled with oversights, particularly a skewing of figures put out by the Congressional Budget Office.
Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist, expressed his concern for Ferguson’s misrepresentation of facts in a simple statement: “I guess they don’t do fact-checking at Newsweek.” In fact, they don’t. Newsweek and a host of other periodicals have relied on their writers to fact check their own work for a number of years. How, you may wonder, can such a prestigious machine of American intellect thrive without behind-the-scenes validity checks?
Perhaps, quite simply, because the public thrive on instant gratification, not to mention have trouble focusing on rich text, on anything that is more than an online news blurb or short statistic. Twitter and Facebook news feeds continue to increase in popularity because the millennial generation chooses to indulge in them, even as large mistakes are made.What was once a platform for personal expression has become a method of instantaneous current issue digestion, something that in the long run, may procure dire consequences.
As Hofstra students eager to take part in such a historical monument as that of the debate, we will undoubtedly make our voices heard through tweets and anecdotal posts. Whether we’ve secured a volunteer position, a lucky seat in the sports complex, or are simply interested in how the politics of the October 16th debate unfold, each one of us is privileged with the ability to quickly exchange valuable information online. As we do so however, I think it’s important that we bear the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics in mind: “Seek truth and report it ….” I think it’s important that, although we may continue to utilize Twitter, we still remember that online blurbs will never provide us with the context or depth of perspective that say, a New York Times or Wall Street Journal story will. It’s important that the pursuit of truth should always take precedence.
As Hofstra students, we have the power to distinguish fact from fiction – whether that be with a tweet or a WordPress post. We may not be capable of extending the deadlines, but we are capable of telling the truth, an act that that will affect society as long as it exists, and an act to which we should commit.