What is the role of the journalist in today’s world?

During the Birmingham riots, when a huge amount of rumour and speculation was being passed around the social networks (Riot rumours – Guardian), should the local media have also stepped in to set the records straight?

(check out this fantastic visualization of Twitter rumours by The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/interactive/2011/dec/07/london-riots-twitter)

Many believe that journalists should only deal with news — a rumour is not news, and should be left alone.
This may have been the case before the era of social networks and citizen journalists – when the journalists had the monopoly on the information reaching the public, and to mention “rumour” was to give it credence.

However, today – thanks to the power of the online world, rumour has credence without the journalists being involved.
Consider this example: a station is evacuated due to a suspect package. Word breaks online and spreads quickly.

Traditionally we would turn to our the established news outlets (local radio, local newspaper website etc) for confirmation or, at least, information. However, if they are saying nothing about it because nothing has been confirmed, then that organization will quickly lose its reputation. Concerned parties will instead continue to believe the information being passed around online.

Those local news outlets should be on Twitter and Facebook saying what they know about this situation. They should besaying that the station has been evacuated. They should also be passing on information as they receive it.  Granted, it probably won’t make a story, but people are talking about it – hence it deserves attention.
Now we are left with a situation where minute-to-minute updates are handled by the sources themselves (police, Government, NHS) and an army of citizen journalists.

It is no wonder that local/regional news outlets are losing their grip on their regions – when there are other sources of information not concerned with filling pages, and maintaining exclusives.

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