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Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Digital Media/Generation J Toolbox

Remaining accurate in a digital world

By Lynn Walsh

Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare or the hundreds of other social media sites online, new technologies are changing the way we work as journalists.

For a lot of us this means more work and more tasks being crammed into a short amount of time. As journalists we are expected to update viewers and readers with information using all available platforms. We are expected to get more done in the same amount of time we used to have to just write a story.

Covering a beat now means constantly checking Twitter feeds, updating “fans” on Facebook, along with making calls to sources, following tips and producing content for your news organization. It is a lot to do, and we move quickly to get it all done.

WEBSITES TO HELP WITH VERIFICATION:

Guidestar.org

Robust source of information for non-profit groups that can provide information for where money is going to and coming from and how the federal government categorizes organizations.

wefollow.com

Twitter accounts categorized into areas of specializations and links to official accounts for celebrities and other influential people.

congressional140.com, tweetcongress.org and tweetwatchreport.com

Great sources for information on who is tweeting in politics.

Technology provides a lot of benefits and can make our jobs easier, but it can also get you into a lot of trouble if the information you are posting is inaccurate. Accuracy is one of the most important tenets of our profession.

Whether you are publishing information from an outside source you found online, linking to a site within your story, or identifying someone with a picture or video, here are some tips on remaining accurate in a digital world:

1. IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

In almost every story you write, you include the name, age or other personal information about an individual; but make sure it is correct in all forms of publication. Sometimes we forget to double-check the posts we make on Facebook and Twitter, but those are just as important. Take the extra time to double-check the information you are posting and try not to just do it from memory — this includes the spelling of names, organizations and words in general.

2. SHARING LINKS ON SOCIAL NETWORKS

It’s your beat and you want to be the first to know if there is a breaking news story, so you follow other news organizations and journalists. This is a great way to stay on top of information, but be careful what you retweet on Twitter or share on Facebook; another news organization or journalist could be incorrect. Make a few phone calls before sharing the story, and always attribute to the source.

3. LINKING TO INFORMATION IN STORIES

Sending readers to the source of the information or an organization’s website is a great way to provide more information. First, make sure links work. (If they don’t, what’s the point?) Second, make sure you and your news organization feel comfortable with the site you are linking to. Do a little research before just copying and pasting a link. Make sure you know what type of organization it is, what it does, etc.

4. USING WEBSITES AS SOURCES

The Internet has a website to back up any viewpoint, any figure, any statistic or any information, but that does not always mean it’s correct. Do your own digging and fact check what a website claims. Just because it’s online does not make it true.

5. IDENTIFYING AN INDIVIDUAL

You do a Google Image search for someone and the same five pictures pop up, so it must be that person, right? Wrong. If you are using an image or video from the Internet to identify someone, make sure you have the right person. The same goes for a Twitter handle, a Facebook page or a website with a person’s name.

Lynn Walsh is chairwoman of the SPJ Generation J Committee and works as an investigative video journalist for Texas Watchdog in Houston. Contact her on Twitter @LWalsh or at Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

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