17 November 2012

Tanzania: Journalists Cautioned to Get Facts Right Before Tweeting

SOMETIMES it is very difficult to believe that social media is here to stay. It is so, because there are so many things that disappeared over a period of time.

These were scientific discoveries which no one could imagine will be phased out and replaced by some other latest technologies. In other words the scientific discoveries are dynamic.

Look at the digital era replacing analogue systems everywhere in the world. Many media experts explain that the Tanzania media practitioners need training.

Actually they need mentors to help them cross the bridge at this time when the world is migrating from conventional media to new media.

It is important for some one to guide them (journalists) accordingly. But media expert from the US, Dr. Ann Olson who was recently in the country has challenged the journalists to be careful when using the new media including Twitter, Facebook and others.

She said that it has been a tendency for journalists to write on the social media what they think than what they know. Since the social media emerged it has brought a lot of transformation in the world in the last two decades.

For example it was instrumental in supporting the Arab spring (uprising) which was able to keep people posted as events were unfolding, showing the world the revolutionary minds and actions.

Dr Olson: "I think in America and western world social media has been able to expand the sphere where information can reach in a blink of a second. It is true that it also involves people who have least experience to share their ideas."

She further said that social media is unique in that media can use universal people as sources of information without boundaries. "It is a way of using more tools to get more comprehensive information, as well as instant look to spread the news," she said.

Many experts in social media concur that the new models such as facebook, twitter and others have made everyone hungrier for information. However, it is changing our appetite for news and these models are dynamic. However we do not know where it is taking us, says Dr Olson. People are always clear of what they want from journalism.

Many people that I spoke to acknowledge that they want journalism that brings facts. There is a difference between opinion and facts which is what differentiates journalism from gossip or rumours on social media.

In the media what matters is how fast it can deliver well researched and substantiated information to the public. It is that instant organization of ideas that distinguish journalism from the social media. But when it comes to propaganda, some experts say that propaganda is in the eye of the beholder.

"What is my propaganda could be your information," said the expert. When critically looking at facebook, twitter and others as the latest models, it all proves that we are living in a world spinning faster. She says: "If we think we are coming at the end of the road we are deceiving ourselves."

However, facebook as a way of organizing revolution is not about journalism, but it is all the power of internet or cyber. The innovation that is found in the western media is that ability of an ordinary citizen, who is living in remote area of Pakistan, yet was able to Twitt the US military operations when Osama was attacked.

The individual did not even know who was under attack but yet was able to share the event blindly. But Dr Olson argues that the East African journalists should not concentrate on the new media but rather concentrate on developing their journalistic skills.

Actually journalists are required to learn to do the basics rights and after mastering that move to interact on social media. There is also a school of thought which thinks that social media is for people of like minds, who share some values and ideas.

Since there is a large population whose voices are not heard, their opinion do not matter, journalists should act swiftly to reach these groups. It is the responsibility of the journalists to get other people's opinion. This can be done in a story telling approach, by presenting and showing the truth.

It is upon the journalists to go out in the world and see people acting which is the hardest work of journalism. Another challenge is for the journalists to present facts without saying what you think and let people judge for themselves, as the story unfolds.

One important feature of journalism is diversity that is found in media houses. It is manifested in the way two people assigned to do the same story but conduct interviews using different sources that will examine issues and offer divergent solutions or opinions. To me this is democracy in action and journalists should strive to achieve that diversity among the people.

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