Not surprisingly, the Boston bombings produced a huge fleet of tweets from the general populace as the investigators sought help in identifying the suspects.
The good news is that the police caught and charged one of the suspects, while another was shot dead.
The bad news is that there was a lot of misinformation floating around, made worse by people who tweeted and retweeted it… a hall of mirrors effect.
With police scanners being accessible to one and all, and anyone with an internet access and the ability to put together a couple of words – grammar and spelling skills not required – there seemed to be more chaos in the ether than anywhere else. This led to the Boston police requesting people not to quote and tweet police scanner chatter.
There seems to be this new … trend or idea or thing … floating around now – that everyone is a journalist.
I can apply the age old argument that since the advent of the internet, everyone is a doctor, a psychologist and/or an architect. I can also ask whether it means that everyone with a calculator is an engineer or mathematician. Or I can ask whether everyone with a sense of humor and the ability to deliver a punch line is a comedian.
People who propose this ridiculous notion fail to realize that there is a difference between someone who disseminates information, and someone who vets the information, verifies it and then sends it out. The latter is a journalist; the former is just someone with access to information. How that person handles that information makes all the difference, and thus a journalist makes.
[I’m going to pretend that other areas such as covering government issues, foreign reporting, war reporting, investigative journalism etc. don’t even exist – or even if they do, we simply ignore them and send out opinion tweets on what we THINK is happening.]
This also brings the issue to another important point, armchair columnists. If newspapers have their columnists working in the newsroom where they are witness to the pressure, the deadlines, the bouquets of information and the need for accuracy as well as the responsibility that comes with having to be accountable for the information sent out, then perhaps these columnists would take all those tweets with the proverbial grain of salt, and not suggest that everyone is a journalist.
Perhaps now the need for licensing of journalists is greater than it ever was. That would be one way to enhance journalism education, weed out noise-makers and bring credibility to the profession. If doctors, engineers, psychologists and architects are given licenses then why not journalists, especially since “everyone is a journalist” and peoples’ reputations and lives seem to be on the line when they are branded “terrorists” and “bombers”. When we trust our health/lives and our houses only to those who are licensed and reliable, then why should we not do the same with the world we live in?