MSM forgets what sets it apart

The Rocky Mountain News has taken a lot of my attention this week. Primarily because it is one of the first MSM outlets which I’ve come across attempting to incorporate a greater range of Web 2.0 usage as part of its general reporting effort.

Virtually all MSM now features online sites with reader polls and reader comments. Those have their own incredible issues which are related, but I won’t delve into here.

However, the RMN decided to incorporate a Twitter-feed as part of its news service, on the front page of its online issue wednesday this week. And the story they covered? The funeral of a 3-year old boy who was killed by accident while at an ice-cream store.

The result of running this piece was that the RMN was brought to task by The Poynter Institute, its own readers and other media over two things.

Firstly, the appropriateness of using the ‘tool’ of Twitter at a funeral. A child’s funeral. Well, you know what? They didn’t really use Twitter. They might as well have video taped it (oh, actually they did that too) because while Twitter is a social networking tool, the RMN (like all other MSM) only use it for broadcast purposes – there was no conversation going on. The RMN, like all other MSM, simply doesn’t ‘get’ Twitter. If you’d like a metaphor, it’s the same as if the telephone was invented and the RMN called you and said stuff, then hung up. No interaction. The RMN still sees the potential of Web 2.0 as tired old Web 1.0. MSM uses Web 2.0 with an ‘it doesn’t really count, it’s just a bit of fluff’ attitude. And that’s why the brains of MSM, with all its years of journalistic experience, is failing in the 21st century. 

But the more important issue is the content.

The editor of the RMN responded to the outrage caused by his decision to run the Twitter feed. His excuse was basically “Well, we’re struggling with this new technology stuff, and we had permission.”


‘Struggle’ away. However, I have listened to many MSM journalists describe the difference between them and bloggers. This usually comes down to ‘We are professionals’. Tack onto that other qualifiers like “We’ve been doing this for xx years” and “All bloggers do is write about us anyway, so if we disappeared then what would be left?”

Well apologies if this seems harsh, but guess what the bloggers are writing about? What a crap job you ‘professional’ journalists are doing. How unbalanced, biased, ignorant you have become.

And if you are ‘professional’, then how about reading through your Code of Ethics a few times? Hell, why not stick it up on the wall to remind yourselves what you’re trying to do? What it is that sets you apart from bloggers?

I sincerely believe that the Code of Ethics is the one thing – the touchstone – that journalists have to rely on. 

In Australia we have a Code of Ethics which compels the professional journalist to “resist the compulsion to intrude.” (Let’s leave aside the fact that the Code isn’t found on the first page of the MEAA’s website… if fact, it involves lots of clicking to get to it.) Even though the RMN had permission to report the funeral, it wasn’t the right thing to do using the words, images and portrayal you did. It was incredibly biased and the resulting feeling in the audience was one where you grew a moral panic about the ‘illegal immigrant’ who caused the accident. (Demonstrated by the reader comments.)

The USA’s code as stated by the Society of Professional Journalists, is even more clear. It states, flat out “Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiousity.” The RMN didn’t do that. In the words of one reader’s response; ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’.

If you are to be professional journalists, behind every struggle,  whether it is over the use of technology or the content you create on that technology, you should stand true to your professional Code of Ethics.

If not, a blog awaits.

One comment

  • Excellent points all around – especially appreciate the part about using Twitter as a one way broadcasting tool.

    Also agree that journalists in general have strayed far from the code of ethics. As consumers we have to stop consuming their “news” if it is not up to that standard.

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