Trial by fire for student journalists

Trial by fire for student journalists
April 25, 2013 Micheal Ives

By Micheal Ives, Extreme Alaska

imagesThe last few months have been remarkable teaching tools for the up-and-coming journalists in Extreme Alaska.  We have seen events and stories break almost weekly that test the mettle of not only student-journalists, but the most crusty and salty reporters and writers around the world.  Most recently, we have watched the tragic and compelling events in Boston unfold as multitudes of news media personnel attempted to deliver immediate news in a very difficult and cloudy situation.  At UAF we have seen several stories and investigations reported right here on Extreme Alaska and in the UAF student newspaper The Sun Star that have drawn some criticism and negative feedback.  The world has changed for journalists, and it is best we learn it here and now before we hit the (even meaner) streets.

Social media has become both a huge pro and con for today’s journalists.  The Boston situation showed this in full as news media, the FBI, and others used some pros of social media to their advantage.  They were able to glean almost immediate video footage and still photos of events and people that would have taken much longer and much more work to gather years back.  This allowed the news media to broadcast some amazing and compelling graphics that were mere minutes after the event occurred.  This is fabulous and a great new addition to news.  However, this ups the ante for news media.  In an age where EVERYONE can be a “side reporter” and people (with blogs and YouTube accounts) are getting this video and inside information well before the media, so the media responds with haste.  This can and will fail at times and we saw it happen in Boston.  Speed can lead to inaccuracy…which scares off your viewers and readers like a smallpox outbreak.  News outlets must take note and remember that being correct, honest, fair, and thorough is more heavily weighted than simply being first.  Today, you will almost never be first….and certainly not all the time….so focus on being right.

Here on campus we have seen a discussion break out regarding the use of social media.  A recently opened Facebook page titled “UAF Confessions” has brought to the forefront how we use social media, who we can talk about, and who can see it.  Some reactions to the Extreme Alaska and The Sun Star pieces have supported the stories and the right to publish information that has been posted on a (semi) public site.  Others have fought for privacy and say the media has no right to paste Facebook comments and posts into another widespread news medium.  The argument is split and rightfully so.  We as journalists agree and fully support the battle for First Amendment rights and free speech.  We really do.  It’s what our jobs are all about.  If a story has people clashing back and forth, and both sides have a very valid point, then you know you have a good story and are hitting on a topic that is on people’s minds and needs some light and answering.

As funny and weird as it sounds, having to seriously think about concepts like libel and slander as a student journalist is just great training!  Our path is bright if we can learn to be thorough and correct right here.  Being correct, truthful, and objective (unbiased) is what sets journalists apart from the crowd.  We must remember this and stick to our core concepts.  Adapt to new technology, don’t be intimidated or rushed by it.  And finally, don’t be afraid to make a few folks unhappy with your stories as long as you know you have done your due diligence and that you are doing the right thing.  You will never make everyone happy…and if you do, it’s not real journalism you’re cranking out.

*Extreme Blog-opinions are authors own

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