Deeper reporting on technology needed, say student journalists

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Media and communication students agree that there is a need for deeper reporting on technology by the media, although they argue that the emergence of the science is creating challenges for the practice of journalism.

The students, from Northern Caribbean University (NCU) and the Caribbean School of Media and Communication (Carimac), were participants in a forum on May 31 which was part of a three-day exchange aptly dubbed ‘Tech as a Beat’. It was organised by technology company MC Systems, in collaboration with the US Embassy in Jamaica, and Carimac. The event was held at Carimac on the Mona Campus of The University of the West Indies.

The students discussed the topic: ‘Practising Media and Communication in an Emerging Digital Landscape’.

“The deeper you delve into it, the more you realise the implications — the rights to privacy, access to information…so I think it’s something that I’d like to look at,” said Demion McTair, a Carimac student entering his third year, who also emphasised the effect emerging digital technology, in particular, could have on human rights and development.

Lincoln Liking, a student at NCU who is also practising at NCU FM, believes journalists need more training in the area to develop a “nose” for technology-related stories.

“To really view technology as a beat requires training, because even sitting here and going through some of the top technology stories, and when I think about them and how to approach them, I don’t approach them as tech stories,” he said.

Khadrea Jones, a second-year journalism student at Carimac, agreed, pointing out that training is needed to help journalists navigate the jargon and technicalities clouding technology, so that they are better able to question the implications of the functions of devices and legislation surrounding various forms of technology.

“I can’t report something that I don’t understand myself,” she said.

While pointing to the need for deeper skills to explore technology as a beat, the students commented that the fast-paced change of technology has created challenges for journalists who are now not only being forced to compete with the emergence of citizen journalism, but are also facing a difficulty with balancing business and practice.

They bemoaned that one of the increasing difficulties media face is the need to be first, which often means accuracy is compromised for expediency.

“We live in a society where there is this insatiable appetite for content, and people, especially journalists, know that it’s important to get there first. And now with these systems that we have like Twitter, Instagram that give anybody the ability to access information out there, things like reporting are being undermined, things like fact-checking are being undermined, things like proper storytelling are being undermined. So how do we, as journalists, move forward in this age?” Liking asked.

Third-year Carimac student Shamar Bingham expressed similar concerns.

“We are trying to be first rather than accurate. When that happens we have a flood of information coming, and the gates that are set up there to screen out fake news from real news; they break down the system,” he argued.

“When we do that, we do not only lower ourselves on journalistic ethics, we lower ourselves to the society’s standard.”

However, facilitators of the discussion, Dr Corrine Barnes, lecturer at Carimac, and Alan Deutschman, guest presenter for the Tech as a Beat workshop and professor of journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, reminded the students that ethics, skills and traditional principles of journalism have to be maintained, regardless of the pace at which technology changes.

“Given these changes, I don’t think that it’s always necessary to be first,” Deutschman affirmed.

“In today’s environment, coming a little later but having the authority that what you’re doing is correct is more important,” he said.

He said journalists also have an opportunity to correct misinformation and point people to the truth.

Dr Barnes noted that technology can enhance and guard the core principles of journalism, if it is used properly. She said fact-checking, for example, is actually made easier by technology, and journalists should use it to debunk misinformation and maintain good reporting.

“Fact-checking is easier now in this day and age than it used to be, because it’s just a matter of getting on the Internet and checking, and you can do it in real time,” she said.

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