Saturday, February 20, 2010

This is a forgery, This is a forgery

Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, and Farrah Fawcett all died within three days of each other.

I honestly can't remember how I got that information. It was everywhere. I probably got it from my mom leaving the TV on with Extra playing while I was eating lunch. Or maybe it interrupted my marathon of "16 and Pregnant" with one of those MTV news bulletins. Man, I always hated those. Forget Michael Jackson, I want my pregnant teenagers who make me feel better about my own life!

When I logged onto Twitter during those few days, one of the Top Tweets along with Jackson's death, was "Britney Spears dead." It was also a trending search on Google. I couldn't find any news site to back it up, but I was legitimately curious as to whether Spears had died as well.

Social media had lied to me. The days passed, Spears was alive. She even sang a tribute in Jackson's memory.

Social media is like Wikipedia. It's a good place to start, terrible place to finish.

I've learned news from Social more times than I can count. I learned about Brittany Murphy's death, Barack Obama winning the Nobel Prize, and as I said in an earlier post, Kanye West's famous "Imma let you finish," blunder, all from either Tweets or Facebook status updates. Of course, I had to verify all of them with actual news sources.

Notice a trend here, though: people don't tweet local news. In fact, in my experience, people rarely tweet news besides entertainment news. I'll be the first to admit I have Lady Gaga's and Nicole Richie's updates sent to my phone. But if I want to get news, I have to check the Twitters of the Daily Tar Heel or something similar.

In logging into Twitter just now to link to the DTH, I have found the perfect example. Trending Topic: "Criminalize miscarriages."

My first reaction: you can go to jail for your own child dying inside you?

So I clicked it. I read the article all the tweets linked to. All the tweets said something to the effect of "Mormon stupidity", or "You can get jailed for falling down the stairs?" or something like that.

People tweeted this without reading the article. The law was submitted in Utah in hopes of preventing an indecent the state had just seen of a 17-year-old girl paying a man $150 to beat her stomach in hopes of inducing a miscarriage. The baby was born anyway, and given up for adoption. The law only forbids intentional miscarriage, and abortion is still completely legal.

The tweets lied to me today, too.

So no, I don't trust my friends for news. Yes, I trust newspapers. But my friends are a great place to start to look for news. But normal people are not dependable because they're not held accountable. Newspapers, on the other hand, are.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'm gonna shout it from the rooftops, cos I'm tired of being alone.

As I was walking home from the library today, I passed the streetlight with the Farewell sticker on it and smiled.

Every time I see those stickers, I smile. Not really because of Farewell--I mean, I like them a lot--but it reminds me of all the unspoken connections I have to the thousands of Carolina students I've never met.

I remember the first time I saw one of the stickers. I drove up to UNC with Jeremy in an extremely failed attempt to buy my textbooks. After we failed that, we decided not to waste all the time driving to Chapel Hill, so we just walked around the campus and looked at all the pretty buildings.

We walked to Carroll, the building I knew I would be spending so much time in, and we walked to Ehringhaus to see the dump I'd be living in for a year, and we walked to the stadium, the Dean Dome. Then we were hungry. Hello first meal on Franklin Street.

Walking up from South Campus we saw the sticker stuck on a Daily Tar Heel box. Jeremy was the first person I saw them with, so it was only perfect that it was with him on this new frontier that I saw the sticker.

I felt a connection to Carolina in a way I hadn't yet.

I figured there would be some students here who also loved mindless pop-punk, jumping up and down, electronica and silly hats, but it was like I realized all the glory that college could be. It was like, I'm not limited to journalism. There are so many opportunities ahead of me that I never even saw because I was so bummed about going to UNC in the first place. I suddenly felt connected to someone I had never met, I probably never will.

The extra irony, of course, is that the sticker was on a Daily Tar Heel box, where I've already made so many connections and spent so many hours at, much more than Farewell ever could. But forget that.

I smile every time I see the sticker and I still don't know why. I mean, it makes sense that there would be fans here, the band is from Greensboro after all. There's really nothing surprising.

But it still makes me smile every time. I wish I could meet the person who posted that.

And today, on my way home from the journalism library on my day off from DTH, I still felt as refreshed and connected to the UNC campus as I did that day during the summer.

[non journalism post ftw!]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rock on, gatekeepers in the age of the internet.

I was given a challenge this week. To test the power of the internet, I needed to find the answer to three questions using just the intar-webz.
  • What did Gov. Beverly Perdue’s last campaign finance report show for cash on hand?
  • How many voters are registered in NC–and what is the breakdown of R, D, and I?
  • Pick a prof–any prof at UNC–and find his/her salary.
I started by simply googling "bev perdue's campaign finance report cash on hand." I found some older reports from 2008, but was not able to find the most recent. So I just googled "Bev Perdue's 'campaign finance report'", thinking I would be able to find the document on some government site. But I couldn't. What I could find, however, was a number of news sites reporting on her finance report, revealing undisclosed flights. Control+F hand="$530,257 on hand as of Dec. 31." And I was done. I trust AP.

For the voter breakdown, I just went to the N.C. Board of Elections Web site (admittedly, I had a bit of an unfair advantage on this one--I wrote a story for the DTH on voter turnout in Orange County in November, so I already knew where this information was). This information is across the top of the site: "Voter Registration as of 02/14/2010 2,734,258 1,918,603 6,733 1,378,937 6,038,531"

Little bit of math gets me here:
  • Republicans: 31.2 percent
  • Democrats: 45.3 percent
  • Libertarian: 0.11 percent
  • Independent: 22.8 percent
UNC professors' salaries. This one will undoubtedly be the most fun of all.
This one was quite difficult. I searched Google for UNC-CH professor salaries, and found nothing. After several variations on this I tried "unc system professors" and found a search engine for UNC system salaries on the News and Observer Web site. I plugged in my News Writing professor, Ryan Thornburg, and boom: $70,010. That's more than I can ever dream to make, sweet!

Here's the interesting thing about this: for two out of three of these questions, I wouldn't have been able to find the answers without the help of newspapers. Newspapers, in a lot of ways, are still the gatekeepers of information.

This process would be ridiculously hard without the news resources of the internet.

But I wouldn't be able to find the last answer in a newspaper, either.

Internet enhances newspapers. They're still being used. The articles are still being read. News resources are still valuable, especially for niche information.

The only answer that was difficult for me to find was the salaries one. I thought this was supposed to be public information. Yet, when I just typed in UNC specifically, I couldn't find it. I can honestly say that without newspapers I probably wouldn't be able to find this.

Rock on, gatekeepers.
Rock on, newspapers.

-Kelly Poe

Thursday, February 4, 2010

But Social media's one of the best mediums of ALL TIME.

My very first day working for the Daily Tar Heel, I was assigned a late story, meaning I covered a meeting and wrote the article afterward, leaving at about 11:30 p.m. I of course had a five page paper due the next day, and my then roommate had gone to bed at 9 (like she did every night). So I took my computer and tried to study in the kitchen. And I gave in, I checked Facebook.

In my news feed, I was greeted by three statuses: "I can't believe Kanye did that! I love Taylor Swift!" "What the hell, Kanye?" and my personal favorite, "TEAM SWIFT."

I don't have a TV, so I had no idea what was going on. I went to Google and typed "Kanye" and "Taylor Swift" but it yielded no news results. So I went back to my Facebook. About six more similar statuses. Tried Google again. Still no information. I went back to Facebook and a friend had posted "Um. So apparently Kanye West did something? What happened exactly?"

And then I got my explanation. Several of her friends posted answers and told me brief, two sentence versions of what happens. West interrupted Swift in the middle of her acceptance to state that he thought Beyonce deserved to win. That was all I needed.

So where did that leave me? Obviously, if there was some news that I wanted about something that had just happened, newspapers were going to fail me. But even internet news sites had failed me! Blogs weren't available yet! The only way I could get the news was through Facebook. Through social networking.

More recently, Twitter has saved my butt. The only reason I knew about my 9 a.m. class being canceled due to snow is because I logged into Twitter and my editor had posted that classes before 10 a.m. were canceled. I probably wouldn't have checked my email again until after I had gone to Caldwell Hall that morning only to find it closed.

So this raised the question: the editor-in-chief posted on his personal Twitter that I didn't have to wake up for philosophy. Is this credible?

On the one hand, it's a person. It's not a news source. He could just be messing with us, or he could have gotten the wrong message. His personal Twitter is not held accountable. On the other hand, he's a professional journalist. So if he posts something on his personal Twitter, is it reliable? Should personal Twitters be held to the same standards as professional newspapers?

I checked my email. He told the truth.

There is an abundance of news resources all over Facebook and even more on Twitter. You can follow the Twitters of Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, local political blogs like OrangePolitics, or of course, my favorite news source about the city of Chapel Hill, The Daily Tar Heel.

I consider political news from OP and the DTH pretty reliable. But news straight from the horse's Twitter? I can't trust it.

Take Kleinschmidt. On his Twitter, he posted the following update before the snow: "Just declared a state of emergency 9p tonight until 9a Sunday. Discouraging unnecessary travel during that time."

Kleinschmidt said he had just declared the state of emergency. But in fact, he had not. He had prepared a proclamation, but never actually declared it.

Political news straight from the Mayor's Twitter isn't even reliable.

So what social networking sites can you use and trust to use information to make decisions?

Trust the feeds of newspapers as much as you trust the paper copy, however much or little that means to you. You can't trust personal Twitters or Facebooks as fact, no matter whose they are.

Social networking has the potential to hold a great deal of information, however. Tweets and updates, if they are from important and influential people, such as the Mayor, need to be fact checked as rigorously as newspapers are. If they are, they have have the potential to reach an untapped news audience, and give people a reliable source for information. Many social networking sites already are reliable. But it's never really going to be possible to make a sweeping generalization about the reliability of social news unless there is a standard, and currently, there's not one for being a news source on Twitter.