Guest Editorial: Know where you get your news

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James Phillips (Scott Eric Day Photography)

In many areas of Alabama, blogs or Facebook pages have begun to function as news agencies. While those entities can be helpful in distributing information, they lack the accountability to be considered an actual news outlet.

In my opinion, a news outlet should be credentialed in some form. Being a full member of the Alabama Press Association and/or the Alabama Broadcasters Association are the most recognized credentials in our state.

Blogs or Facebook pages posing as news agencies many times lack the integrity to stand by what they have posted. Many instances have been uncovered where these entities have posted something as fact only to delete the post when it has been proven false, without admitting any fault. That type of negligence hasn’t happened in Walker County in recent years as far as I know, but it happens often in nearby counties. One rogue Facebook page for a former local radio station did much of that sort of thing in Walker County several years ago. Of course, the person behind that page soon found himself on the wrong side of the law in issues unrelated to that page.

Blogs and Facebook pages oftentimes use the work of credentialed news agencies to create content without giving the journalists who initiated the piece credit at all. In my eyes, that is nothing more than a form of cyber plagiarism. Sharing links to a real news agency is one thing, but clipping out pieces of a newspaper and using it as your own content is wrong. It would also be wrong to simply reword information from a new agency and present it as their own work.

Many organizations have begun using blogs or Facebook pages as a way to send out press releases. While that is perfectly legal, it is a cheaper version of hiring a public relations official or firm. A blog being used for that nature cannot be expected to remain unbiased when reporting on that organization, especially if the organization is a municipality or other form of government. 

One of the main functions of journalists across the globe is to hold elected officials accountable. Community newspapers are the main source for local news in cities and towns across Alabama. A blog or Facebook page cannot be a news outlet if they are being used as a PR firm or running political campaigns. That is unethical and nothing more than an individual pretending to be a news organization.

As a member of the Alabama Press Association Board of Directors, I believe much discussion is needed in the future to address digital media, because that is where our industry is headed, but it will be newsrooms that continue to produce the quality product with the accountability needed for readers to know it comes from a trusted source and not just a single person, posing as a news agency, sitting in a dark corner of their home, posting gossip.

That confusion caused by some blogs and social media pages is a detriment to the good work being done by journalists across our state. 

James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Walker County. He may be reached at 205-221-2840 or james.phillips@mountaineagle.com.