ONA introduces 5 ethical challenges of social news gathering at SXSW

A working group formed by the Online News Association has identified five key challenges facing those who gather news via social media. Board members Eric Carvin of AP, one of the working group’s founders, and Mandy Jenkins of Digital First Media explained the challenges at South by Southwest Interactive on Sunday.

Here’s a quick look at what they covered. Check out ONA’s blog posts for more, or get involved with the working group:

1. Verification and accuracy

A commonly talked about concern in social news gathering is how to verify information. Craig Silverman has covered the issue extensively for Poynter, in the free Verification Handbook and in News U webinars.

Jenkins summed up her mentality toward verification: Treat information you find online with the same critical eye you would if it were provided by a random person on the street.

2. Contributors’ safety

This problem is less commonly talked about, Carvin said, but it’s something news organizations have to think harder about as they gather more and more user-generated content. To what degree should news organizations solicit content from nonjournalists at the scenes of dangerous stories? What are the news outlets’ responsibilities to social contributors if something happens to them? They’re not employees or freelancers, so news organizations need to develop policies that apply to them.

3. Rights and legal issues

Carvin said social media users who share a photo will often grant reporters permission to use it — even if the users don’t actually have the rights to them. So it’s the journalists’ job to know the law, and they should always ask: “Did you take this?”

Beyond satisfying legal and ethical obligations, asking for permission before lifting an image from the Web forms a relationship with contributors and often yields more content or higher-resolution photos, Carvin said.

4. Social journalists’ well-being

Another uncommonly addressed issue: What about social media editors themselves? Carvin said social journalists certainly aren’t in physical danger like those covering war zones, but the possibility of “virtual PTSD” from looking at graphic, disturbing images with regularity should be researched.

5. Workflow and resources

The speed vs. accuracy problem underlies all these concerns, and moving forward ONA will offer ideas for solutions and best practices.

Related training: Don’t Get Fooled Again: Best Practices for Online Verification | Getting It Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age

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