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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Columns

Social media, journalists call first dibs


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Freedom of speech and professional media duke it out for the world to see. | David Delgado/The Daily Cougar

Jeff Bliss is something like a martyr. After being asked to leave his high school classroom in early May, the Duncanville student informed his teacher, “you can’t expect a kid to change if all you do is tell ‘em.”

“You want kids to come into your class,” he said. “You want them to get excited for this? You gotta come in here — you gotta make them excited. You gotta touch his freaking heart.”

Bliss is blonde, with long hair. He is wearing a blue shirt and red Nike high tops.

His instructions were noted, but Bliss couldn’t have known they were being recorded by a classmate in the front row. He couldn’t have known that his classmate would have the fortitude to upload the recording to YouTube. And he couldn’t have known that, less than a week later, he’d find himself reiterating his elegy for ABC.

That telecast found over 4,000,000 hits on YouTube. He has since been spotted on The Examiner, New American News Media, the International Business Times, the Huffington Post, The Dallas Morning Observer, CNN, World Star, NBC Washington, CBS DFW and the Socialist Worker Online. He’s also been re-interviewed by Steve Eager of Fox News and SAY CHEESE TV.

In both interviews, he wears a beanie. In the latter, he’s sitting in the park. He has not cut his hair.

The problem with Jeff Bliss is the problem with social media, and the problem with social media is a problem that’s becoming very much our own — our reliance for perspective regardless of reputability.

Hard facts are one thing. The weather is the weather is the weather. Events are events. Whether you’ve been told the Dow report by Rush Limbaugh or Anderson Cooper or Huckleberry Finn, you have information untainted by perspective or motive. But you’ve got a distinct other when, say, your go-to source for the particulars of our state’s public education framework is an 18-year-old former high school drop-out lacking the patience to sit through a social studies course.

The Pew Research Center took note. With over 15 months worth of findings in hand, they believe YouTube has created “a complex, symbiotic relationship between citizens and news organizations … a relationship that comes close to the journalistic ‘dialogue’ many observers predicted would become the new journalism online.”

You’d think that the furthering of journalistic interest would be good thing. It mostly is. The Research Center later qualifies “the rise of social media recommendations does not appear to be coming at the expense of people going directly to new sites or searching for the topics they’re interested in.”

They’ve found that user uploaded news transmissions weren’t diminishing appetites for more traditional news sources: if anything, they stimulated them.

But in our haste for front line, definitive reports, the risk of perpetuating inaccuracies looms ever further. Complacency becomes commonplace. Several weeks ago, CNN’s Jake Trapper accused ABC and the Weekly Standard of inaccurately reporting emails in an exchange regarding this year’s terrorist attacks in Benghazi. He did so with an email of his own.

Conversely, CNN flubbed their coverage of last month’s Boston Marathon bombings by erroneously “reporting Wednesday afternoon that an arrest had been made.” It hadn’t. The suspects weren’t even identified yet. And all at the leisure of “eye witness” reports, observations conveyed via Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the networking gamut.

And why would faulty national news coverage tie back to a public schooler’s rants? In what way does Jeff Bliss, despite what are surely spectacular intentions, exemplify the issue of immediacy in our generation’s information grabbing?

Because he’s the representation of the future. Or at least a representation. We’ve got time to change. Mistakes will be made. But if we continue to forsake accuracy for “first dibs'” sake, a social studies classroom will be the least intimidating locale we’ve got to look forward to.

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