Get it first, but first get it right

In the new digital age journalists rely on content shared in social media. But how to verify it while remaining timewise competitive? Media expert Spangenberg gave us some tips.

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Students interactively participated in a social media content verification workshop

On Saturday, 19 November, the third and last day of the Bildkorrekturen conference started with a speech about verification of social media content. Jochen Spangenberg, innovation manager at Deutsche Welle, presented various pitfalls that can lie behind the user generated content (UGC).

The journalists and media companies rely on texts, pictures and videos published by users in social media. Since the news shared in the World Wide Web spread confusingly fast, journalists – always under enormous pressure of time – might use not accurate content or taken out of context. They sacrifice accuracy for speed.

Fake news travels faster and better than truth

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Spangenberg illustrated how easily journalists can be tempted by fake images

The fake picture of dead Osama Bin Laden was circulating through established British newspapers in the web for two years; a fake picture of Hugo Chavez in the hospital was on the front page of the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais. With these and many other examples, Jochen Spangenberg illustrated the challenges traditional media organizations face and the damage it can cause in the reputation of both journalists and media.

Although content shared in social media by non professionals often lacks quality, its news value is so high that journalists end up using it. Such content dominates then the online platforms and headlines and the journalists‘ responsibility is to make sure the news and images are real.

Enthusiastic young journalists and other guests at Bildkorrekturen conference had the chance to enhance their verification skills applying practical tips from media expert Jochen Spangenberg. He explained for instance, how indicators in pictures and videos allow finding out their time and location.

The role of emotions to reach the audience

Publications on social media not only provide material that journalists wouldn’t be able to get by themselves, but they can also politically influence people by triggering emotions. Taking the example of the recent United States (US) election, Bildkorrekturen participants exchanged their ideas and critics on the media performance covering it.

Participants were engaged and critical with the conference content

Participants were engaged and critical with the conference content

Social media allow politicians to express their statements with greater freedom, without fearing to be censored or misrepresented by the established media.

„Donald Trump refused to use conventional media for his campaign,“ one of the students from the Deutsche Journalistenschule highlighted. „He excluded the established media from his rallies and relied only on alternative platforms like Twitter.“

Donald Trump’s success came as a surprise to many people – including media experts. But why were media surprised by the election’s result? What went wrong? Students and media experts pointed out the US media impartiality and the problem of publishing assumptions on the election’s result as main problems.

They moreover discussed to which extent established media should use emotions to reach a greater number of people. Rigorous and objective journalism has the weakness of not being interesting enough. “For me, a good journalistic piece has to be fun to read,” one of the conference participants commented.

Media have to find a balance between reliable reporting and entertainment. They still have a long way to optimize their impact on their audience. Using social media without being seduced by fast but probably unreliable content remains a substantial challenge for conventional media. Indeed, many images still have to be corrected.