On Mobile Journalism and Social Networking

By Allyn V. Baldemor

Online social networks mobilized hours after Noemi Lagman, 21, was reported to have been missing January 6, 2010. The student of Asia Pacific College Magallanes left her house in Multinational Village in Paranaque between 9 and 10am. Last seen near Duty Free in Paranaque, Lagman had with her Php33 thousand for enrollment but classmates said they did not see her at school, and her mobile phone could not be reached. A community page on her behalf was created the following day on Facebook, detailing the girl’s description and contact numbers.

On January 10, an announcement that Lagman has been found and is back safe with her family went viral. “We were advised by the authorities that information on how and where she was found be kept confidential for her and her family’s security and privacy. We ask for your understanding on this matter,” read the post by cousin Allan Capulong.

The account on Lagman’s disappearance was shared by at least 8,000 people on Facebook alone. “It was through social media where we got the first lead,” according to the family’s message. Social networks breathed a collective sigh of relief but a few who commented on the developments demanded details, saying the family owes it to those who reposted the initial announcement.

That it took only a few hours for the ‘news’ to break on a massive level and four days for the matter to be resolved begs the question: Are social networking sites bound to render legitimate news sources obsolete? If it takes mere minutes for anyone with a computer or mobile phone to publish online an incident, are formally trained journalists headed for extinction?

IMHO, no.On both counts.

I searched the Internet for news on this subject and found only a handful of news sites carrying it. The copy often mirrored the post on Facebook. I can only assume that a more detailed account will be published in news sites in the coming days. When and if pertinent details could be had. and Or if not, it is in deference to the family’s request for privacy.

The topic calls to mind some basic journalism tenets: There has to be a’news-worthy’lead, yes, but it has to have a follow-through as well. To report the news, the journalist has to tap into various verifiable sources (plural), who have to be protected at all cost. Perhaps more crucial, the reporter must keep a certain distance from the issue.

Case in point: the girl’s family need not be further anguished by people compelling them to divulge details, which they regard could be potentially harmful. It is unfair for the people who responded to the call for action to believe that the family owes them. If the news was reported by a journalist, s/he would (or should not) be expected to do so. The journalist is required is to follow-up a news-worthy lead and tell the story factually using verifiable information from credible sources. If the reporter finds that no more details could be had, s/he tells it like it is and writes -30-. The development and subsequent substance of a report depends on who writes it: An enterprising journalist or someone just cruising through her/his beat.

And there’s the rub: Resourcefulness, ethics, training and on-the-job experience. More important, the ethical use of resources and communications technology and how journalists responsibly apply their training and harness their experience.

So even if anyone could post about almost anything online long before a journalist could wrap-up a call on a potential lead, not everyone with a computer or laptop can write the news. The challenge is how, through professionalism and integrity, to make the distinction.

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