The View from Here: Google shouldn’t be your only friend

The days where we used to sarcastically say, “oh sure, it must be true if you read it on the internet,” are long gone. We’ve quickly shifted to a mindset in which we turn to the internet to ask questions and verify information, and we’re not sure of anything until we do. “Google is your friend.”

As I mentioned in our last issue, journalism is growing harder to define, leading to some inevitable pain and suffering for those of us in the field, especially early on. One of the major issues facing newcomers to The Skyline View every semester is the fact that they must adjust to seeking out people and picking their brains for information. This can come as a complete shock to budding reporters, and it’s no surprise that they’re not prepared. Most information is available online, and for better or worse, we’re more likely to trust information from online sources. The internet is
inundated with news stories that contain no original reporting or physical interviews, and to those uninitiated in the field, this can seem like the norm.

Although it’s enormously useful that the internet has become a more credible source of information, this abrupt change in attitude is worrisome for numerous reasons. The most obvious problem with it is the one that spurred our initial skepticism in the internet’s earlier days: Online sources aren’t always correct. We’ve all had experiences in which the wrong time or place was listed online and know how frustrating the consequences can be. Everything is increasingly digitally connected, but there is still a discrepancy between the web and reality.

Accuracy and accountability are two of the most important factors when it comes to good reporting. That’s why, as beginning journalism students, we’re forced to get used to seeking out physical interviews. No amount of online research will ever serve as a substitute for a physical interview with an expert who is willing to go on the record and be held accountable for the information

As the definition of journalism continues to evolve, this is one of the characteristics that will distinguish good reporting from drivel. There are already robots who can do far better web-based reporting than most journalists can. That will not be a job in the future. The things that we need to develop, and that will keep us ahead of our robot colleagues, are interview skills, the ability to seek out real-life information, and instincts about people and stories.

If you’re ever bothered by flustered TSV reporters hunting you down to ask questions on a deadline, please be gentle with them. They’re doing their part to uphold valuable aspects of the institution of journalism, and somebody needs to be doing it.