Journalism News Theory & Ethics: Critical – Week 17 Answers

What sorts of verification and accuracy standards are appropriate for material gathered on social networks?

Fake news is a growing issue which has surfaced as a result of the ever-growing and ever changing social media industry. Social networks reveal breaking news stories before anyone else and with many stories first surfacing on sites such as Twitter as there is no other source out there to confirm or deny the truth in the story there is no reason or way to presume that the article is false. It is therefore essential that journalists meet the verification and accuracy standards set for material gathered on social networks. News organisations must verify all User Generated Content (UGC) through all available technological and human means, as stated by ONA Ethics. One source which can be used is the Verification Handbook, which was released in 2014 by journalists from several leading news and government organisations. (1) Another way is to seek third-party help from other news organisations, verification shops and individual readers.

Whilst journalists must be careful when dealing with UGC, they also need to act quickly to share information and content gathered from the public to keep up with rival organisations. As long as the story appears to be truthful there is no reason why it should not be shown as long as they stress that the UGC has not been fully verified and that they are asking the public to come forward with information which could help with authentication.

Does a journalist need to get permission from a member of public who’s posted material on a social network before using that material? What other rights issues need to be considered?

There are several different ways to approach obtaining permission from a member of the public who’s posted material on a social network. Permission should always try to be obtained and the person needs to be credited, unless the material refers to a high profile news story where the public interest outweighs the risk of using material without permission.  As cited by Eric Carvin from ONA Ethics one method is to obtain permission first, another is use once verified, where they use the material with or without permission once it meets their required standards, but they will continue to seek permission thereafter despite already using it. (1) This approach is risky as it may stand up in court in the eyes of the public interest, but raises some questions from an ethical perspective.

Other factors for journalists to take into consideration include assessing how shocking or gruesome the UGC is and whether it poses a danger to the welfare of the UGC contributors. In some circumstances it is best not to make contact with the UGC contributor especially when they are in a dangerous place and any form of contact may reveal their presence. It is also important to consider those depicted in the picture as the exposure of their identity may put them in danger.

Should a member of the public, who shares newsworthy material on social networks be credited by a journalist who uses that material?

Regardless of whether or not a member of the public has shared their newsworthy material on a social network or not they are a citizen journalist. Therefore, a journalist is obligated to credit their work as it is not their own. The only case where they would not need to be credited is if the journalist took the material and made it their own, producing a package where they have developed their own different news angles and carried out their own interviews. These thoughts are echoed by Thurman, who says “it is essential to provide the consumers with ‘a good edited read’, therefore if someone’s original story does need major adaption and change, it should be acceptable to change their work, therefore it is your own.” (Thurman, 2008) (3)

It is important that in this digital age journalists do not lose their values and principles; they should quote source in broadcast just as they would in print. As mentioned by Bradshaw and Rohumaa, “verifying sources truth, and crediting the use of any material found by another person will help prevent infringing the work of others”. (Bradshaw, Rohumaa, 2011). (2)


(1) Association, O. N., 2017. User-generated content – ONA Ethics. ONA Ethics.

(2) Bradshaw, P; Rohumaa, L, 2011. The online journalism handbook. Oxen: Routledge. P181

(3) Thurman, N., 2008. Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media. New media and society, 10(1), 139-157.



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