The advent of social media and the internet have created a categorical shift in the way people receive, interpret and react to news stories. Traditional media sources are constantly having to change and adapt to remain profitable and relevant in this user-centric atmosphere, where blogs and Twitter are seen as reliable sources of information. As soon as a story breaks, there are hundreds of bloggers and other news sources vying to create their own angle and disseminate the information themselves. And while many of us would assume that the blogosphere is plagiarizing and repackaging stories from conventional reporters, many claim that the roles in this relationship are often reversed.
Danny Sullivan, the Editor in Chief of Search Engine Land, recently reported on a lawsuit filed against Google in which a woman alleges that Google Maps walking directions led her onto a busy highway, where she was hit by a motorist. Sullivan claims he was the first to break the article, and shortly thereafter, several publications had released their own versions insinuating they were the originators of the story, neglecting to mention Sullivan’s report at all. Some of these publications even utilized screenshots Sullivan included in his blog post.
“I’d like to see a lot less finger-pointing and much more acknowledgment that the origin of news is a messy business,” Sullivan wrote in a recent post concerning the issue. “So why point fingers in this case? To help keep things even. I think it’s very well known how traditional sources get cited by alternative ones. But while the opposite is true, that’s a story that’s rarely illustrated.”
Although this is the first story in recent memory to get media attention of this nature, it is almost certainly not an isolated incident. As social media and blogging become increasingly popular sources for hard news, it will be imperative to hold all parties accountable for crediting their sources, no matter who they are. The FTC has already begun to address the issue, recently releasing a document title “Potential Policy Recommendations to Support the Reinvention of Journalism.” And while this is a solid starting point, more needs to be done to address the unique legal and ethical issues social media and the internet in general pose to journalism.