Saturday, August 18, 2007

Facebook Journalism

I'd like to take a moment to complain about a phenomenon that I'll call "Facebook Journalism" (or "MySpace Journalism") in which newspapers cobble together accounts, particularly involving crime stories, from data contained on the parties' profiles on social networking sites.

My own Los Angeles Times, to which I have a strong sentimental attachment as a local, has become increasingly reliant on this practice, perhaps as a response to cost-cutting measures or perhaps as a salacious tactic to seem to be sharing hidden knowledge with nonmembers from exclusive communities involved with new digital practices. Many of these articles are the journalistic equivalent of the papers I see from unmotivated students that are mostly made up of Wikipedia entries.

The murder of the family of UCI student Shayona Dhanak has been described and explained through some particularly egregious examples, which has only worsened the already poor dissemination of information about the case, as I've reported here on Virtualpolitik before. Today's story, "Third man charged in father-daughter slayings in O.C.," may represent a new low for the Times.

According to Murphy's page, he was born in Northridge and graduated from Chatsworth High School in 2003. He played basketball from ninth to 11th grade, took honors English and biology and had a 2.4 GPA, the school said.

He was studying communications at Concordia University in Irvine, a Lutheran college, his Facebook page said. It was unclear whether he was currently enrolled; school officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The lives of college students are remarkably complex, particularly in the wake of the twin impacts of globalization and technological change on America's campuses. This is a complicated story that involves the dangers of domestic violence and stalking, and one which is also tangled up in several distinct ethnic communities, gender ideologies, criminal histories, and cultural anxieties about violence in "safe" planned communities and structured university settings. Don't we owe college-age audiences for news more if we expect teens and twenty-somethings to continue to read newspapers other than The Onion?

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Blogger Marty said...

Liz, I couldn't agree more. I recently did a post on the New York Times' ethical "rules" for its reporters using Facebook. It's more about protecting the rep of the NYT than the privacy of Facebook users.

9:06 PM  

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