Journalists are just starting to see the benefits of emerging technologies, particularly in the field of investigative data reporting, Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, said in a talk on campus Monday.
These new tools can also be somewhat unproductive for the public as reporters sometimes report information that is not accurate through social media such as Twitter, he said. Coll, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner, spoke on campus in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s annual Nafzinger Lecture.
“The challenge is to essentially account for the retreat of commercial media from certain stories and certain places, and to try to fill that gap and define partners who believe that the work you are doing is sufficiently important to support you … and one of the ways this model can succeed is at a university,” Coll said.
Twitter is increasingly used by news organizations and does not attempt to control the editorial voices of its users, Coll said. He used the movie theater shooting Aurora, Colo. as an example, highlighting the reporting done by the Denver Post to cover the breaking news.
Coll described the chaotic scene at the theatre and focused on the reporters, what they saw, heard and reported out to the public. Due to the late hour, reporters turned to Twitter to get information out and, as a result, there were varying accounts of what happened, he said.
One reporter tweeted straightforward accounts of what information he did and did not know, whereas another reporter shared information given to him about what a witness might have seen, Coll said.
He said this example demonstrates how reporters have a responsibility to only report what is known.
Coll said he does not believe this technological change has or is necessarily a moral issue because technology has no values, only structure.
“We supply the values on the basis of the choices we make, the information we demand, the institutions we manage and the education we emphasize,” Coll said.
Too much time is spent talking about technology rather than talking about journalism itself, he added. Coll said people should interrogate new technology and ask “Why are you [the technology] relevant to a better democratic society? Or why are you relevant to the historical missions that journalism at its best has carried out?”
Being a journalist has always been a profession with “rough edges,” Coll said, but there has always been a continuity in the fundamentals of journalism even as the form of journalism has changed over time.
He said the new technology tools are slowly becoming more beneficial in today’s journalistic world, highlighting the use of data in investigative journalism.
Coll concluded his lecture with a quote by Joseph Pulitzer, saying: “What we really require in all of these ages is an able, disinterested public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it.”