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A Writers Role in the Online Mass Media Environment Richard Groner Southern New Hampshire University

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT Abstract This paper explores the role of of the writer in the online mass media environment. It looks at

the challenges that are presented in a fast paced world where events can be reported in real time and facts and truth can be incorrectly or only partially reported. It examines the writers obligation to follow the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and remain impartial in an increasingly segregated world. It also explores the additional textual, audio, and visual tools needed in a multi-platform environment such as the internet.

A Writers Role in the Online Mass Media Environment

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT The mass media have always been a primary source of news, events, updates, historical record, and even the shaping of public opinion. Writers for mass media have a great power to help shape public opinion by the means they use to present their topics. Because of this incredible power potential, writers also have a responsibility to be truthful, fair, honest and as much as possible, unbiased in their writings. In theory the news should be impartial and should represent as well as possible, all sides of a story without trying to lean the reader to one opinion

or another. A writers role then is somewhat like a judge where the goal is to present all the facts from all parties without swaying the reader to a particular view. This is of course a lot easier said than done. With the advances in technology via the internet and computers, this task has become much more difficult. The new technologies allow for almost anyone to post on any topic and sway their message any way they want. A great many of the writers on the internet are not trained journalists and do not see the need to remain unbiased in their reporting like a professional journalist would. In fact, some could argue that as the internet and communication platforms have grown, there has been a trend toward a more biased media online. This paper will look at a writers role in todays mass media market. The Role of Technology in Communications The need to communicate is an inherent part of being human. We need to communicate basic things for survival. We also need to communicate to each other news of important events happening, status of sports events, stories of how governments are performing, thoughts, ideas, emotions, and many other items of interest. We do this type of communicating via mass media whether it be through the newspapers, television, or the online sources. In the past, the writers for mass media wrote their articles for newspapers, magazines, and television. They had time between the event happening and the time of the report being made or the newspaper/magazine

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT being published. The writer had the time available to confirm facts, track down leads to related items, interview people, etc so that they were sure of their facts when reporting. The time also allowed editors to check those stories for validity and also for impartiality. The stories then made it to their outlet and the public were able to consume the news and made their own opinions.

In the mass media world of today, the internet, social media sites, and mobile computing have made it easier to publish the report of an event quickly and almost in real time as the event is happening. Anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account can post on an event as it is happening and even put up pictures or video of the event. While this can be a good thing in that it is up to date and eliminates the option to distort the facts to a particular side, it also allows for errors and incorrect reporting. A true writer in the mass media environment seeks to report the truth and should follow the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996). Writers who work in the mass media environment need to develop the habit for obtaining accurate information. Writers must pay attention to the details of the information they obtain, making sure that they understand both the meaning and significance of the information that they have. It is imperative that they make sure that the details and ideas are correct (Stovall 2008). Because of the need to confirm the accuracy of what the writer is presenting, time must be taken to get it right. Readers too should realize that while they may be reading something that is happening right at the instant, the information they are receiving is incomplete and many of the facts are missing. With the ever advancing technology of mass media, just as the writer must be cautious of what he/she is writing, the reader must also be skeptical of what he/she is reading until they can confirm those reported facts from additional sources. Only then can an educated opinion be developed.

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT Mass media have a very powerful ability to influence the public and therefore a writers role in mass media is crucial. A writer in mass media must be aware of their influence on the public and exercise caution, truth and adherence to ethics. One example of influence would be the continuing discussions around global warming in the United States. While many scientists

have long said that the burning of fossil fuels was causing warmer temperatures and that natural variation was not a sole or major source, there has been media coverage that has been very critical of that opinion. In 2004, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe called climate change the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people. A year later, novelist Michael Crichton wrote a book called State of Fear, which was a book about an environmentalist terrorist group. The book also challenged the idea of global warming as a result of burning fossil fuels. President George Bush then invited Crichton to the White House to talk about climate policy. The media coverage of both of these events have significantly helped shape public opinion on the climate change debate (Boykoff, M and Rajan, S.R. 2007). A writer in todays mass media environment must always be aware of the influence of what he or she may write and therefore must be sure of the facts of the story as well as the impartiality of its presentation. With the state of current mass media however, it seems that a growing number of mass media outlets are targeting particular groups. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has found that political polarization is increasingly reflected in the viewing publics new habits (Powers, 2005). We are become more segregated by political and other beliefs and are choosing our news from sources that support our beliefs. This is a trend away from the presentation of facts and impartiality as called out in the Code of Ethics where journalists are encouraged to remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility (Society of Professional Journalists, 1996). Still, in the current

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT environment, writers will be challenged by the public be accurate in their information and as

impartial as possible. The public is still paying attention. In a recent Harris pole that was taken in conjunction with the Public Relations Society of America, it was found that the public pays close attention to the news and that many of the traditional news organizations are held in high regard. The organizations that were held in the highest regard are public television and National Public Radio (Stovall, 2008) Another role of the writer in todays mass media is to be a designer of the topics presentation. With news being distributed via the internet as well as radio, television, and newspapers, the tools that the writer needs to know how to utilize increases. The internet allows for multiple platforms and a variety of ways to present the news and the writer must understand these areas and be able to present subjects in more than just the written word (Stovall, 2008). The internet is a visual platform and writers must be prepared to incorporate photos and video in their stories to draw attention. This need demands a higher understanding of media and computer tools than previous generations of journalists (Stovall, 2008) Conclusion The technological advances of mass media have changed the role of the traditional writer of mass media topics. While journalism once meant transferring information via the written word, the advent of the internet and multiple types of platforms have presented an environment where a broad range of tools is required to be utilized by the mass media writer. In addition, the development of mobile media devices allows almost anyone to become a reporter in an sense which puts more stress on the journalist to produce content faster. The faster deadlines force a less complete confirmation of facts and increases the potential for error. The writer also still has the obligation to remain true to the Code of Ethics and report as accurate as possible and with an

A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT impartial view. All of this adds to increased demands of the writer to remain true to his

profession while also remaining relevant in an instant gratification society. Ultimately though, the writer in a mass media environment still remains within the definition of E. B. White when he said, I love this notion of a custodian, or secretary, or interpreter, of culture. Though the word curator is tragically flawed, the ideals at its heartto shine a light on the meaningful, to frame for the reader or viewer what matters in the world and whyremain an important piece of the evolution of authorship. (Popova, 2012) That definition remains true today just as it did for E. B. White in 1969.


A WRITERS ROLE IN THE ONLINE MASS MEDIA ENVIRONMENT Society of Professional Journalists, (1996). SJP Code of Ethics. Retrieved from Stovall, J. G. (2008). Writing for the Mass Media. Retrieved from Boykoff, M. and Rajan, S. R. (2007). Signals and Noise. Mass-media coverage of climate change in the USA and the UK. Retrieved from Powers, W. (2005). The Massless Media. Retrieved from Popova, M. (2012). E.B. White on the Responsibility and Role of the Writer. Retrieved from