Where do the facts end and the rumours begin?

by Emily Friend

IT seems everyone has something to say about this week’s unrest across the UK, and thanks to social networking they can say it to all their friends at once. It is a subject that is dividing people and it’s not just journalists who can comment on events, it’s everyone.

But how well informed are the people relaying news via these sites? In some cases these ‘citizen journalists’ may be far more up-to-date than the journalists remotely reporting on them.

In the case of the riots the papers were miles behind the collective internet information bank, not just thanks to the demise of evening editions but also the fact that anybody can share up-to-the-minute information online. Some media commentators have argued that local news websites weren’t up to the flow of traffic and the masses turned to larger sites to stay informed.

Twitter was awash with photos and reports of the latest activity on the streets of London and further afield. A photograph of a woman jumping from a burning building in Croydon was circulated and viewed by millions of people within hours of it being taken. The same photo was used on most of the following day’s newspaper front pages. By the time I saw it in print the initial impact of the picture was gone.

 

As a trainee journalist this era of the ‘internet exclusive’ could either be disheartening or encouraging. I see it as positive development, that I would be capable of reporting up-to-the-minute, exclusive news and photographs to the world via live blogging or social networking. But there is a part of me that struggles with the idea that anybody can contribute to this endless flow of information.

Some of the sweeping generalisations about class, race and even music taste that littered my feeds this week were shocking. As I sat in my bed on Tuesday evening frantically refreshing my Twitter feed to find rumours concerning Guildford, Redhill and Reigate I didn’t know what to believe.

Perhaps I had naively put my trust in previous tweets and reports of events in Croydon and Ealing? Having not seen these events unfold in front of me, or even on the television or in print, I suddenly didn’t know where the real facts ended and the rumours and internet trickery began.

How do we, as readers, choose who or what to believe? What makes a ‘real’ journalist worthy of commenting on these events? Why would Telegraph or Guardian employees be more capable of commenting than any other person witnessing what is going on? I can’t answer these questions, but the riots have definitely played a part in influencing my ever-evolving view of the role of a journalist in today’s society.

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