reporterCitizen journalists and media opportunists are everywhere, and the integrity of the news is no longer governed by strict journalistic principals.

Michael Schudson, a professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, said that “everything we thought we once knew about journalism needs to be rethought in the Digital Age.”

According to Dr. Schudson, the journalistic lines have blurred. News no longer comes from traditional and verifiable sources. Anyone with a digital camera can record and snap pictures and be “on the spot,” providing their own brand of news commentary and posting it online for all to see. The line has blurred between professional journalists who subscribe to a code of ethics and amateurs with no compunction to remove their bias.

The method to deliver news also has drastically changed. Digital devices and the Internet create an instantaneous platform for the dissemination of news.
For example, when I was working as the director of communications at a university in California, I received a call from a reporter who wanted a statement from the university regarding the obliteration of a faculty member’s car smashed by a flying boulder. I very professionally said, “huh?”

I had not heard anything about this. I prided myself on being at the center of the “news hub” and I foolishly believed that I would be the first to know. “I don’t have any information on that,” I said. “Are you sure of your source?”

rock on a car“I’m watching it right now on YouTube,” the reporter said in a superior and thinly disguised amused tone.

“I’ll get right back to you,” I said. I took his contact information, quickly hung up, went online, checked YouTube and there it was–a boulder flying through the air and landing on a car in the faculty parking lot, smashing in the car’s roof. The boulder came from a controlled explosion of a nearby hillside that was under construction as part of the university’s expansion.

Obviously, an “on-the-spot” citizen reporter/student had captured the event on a
cell phone and immediately posted it to YouTube—alerting everyone he/she kne
w, including a reporter, before letting the university know. Of course, the president of the university was completely ignorant because just at that moment the work crew was briefing the head of Facilities on the incident. Certainly, the faculty member whose car was smashed did not know—yet.

People outside the university had more up-to-date information about the incident than the principles involved. This citizen journalist wanted their “ten minutes of fame” from their friends, getting a “scoop,” more than they wanted to gain kudos from the president of the university.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. In the Digital Age, broadcast news happens instantaneously, so be prepared.