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Facebook is not a newspaper

Posted: January 20, 2012 8:59 p.m.
Updated: January 23, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Journalism: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.

Blog: a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also: the contents of such a site. Short for Weblog.

--both definitions from Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary

We present these definitions to you with a very specific purpose in mind: to delineate between what we do here at the Chronicle-Independent  and what people who post status updates and comments on blogs; Facebook pages; and personal, group or even corporate websites do.

While some journalists may blog and some bloggers may bring their posts to journalistic standards, in general blogging is not journalism.

The difference between blog posts, Facebook updates or Twitter tweets and journalism is an important distinction to make. It is important to realize that what most people post on Facebook, blogs or their organization’s websites are their opinions and interpretations of information. Technically, they can say anything.

We believe it is important for you to turn to a professional news organization when you want to learn about a particular news event or issue.

Let’s quickly bring this down to the local level. For nearly a year, the city of Camden has been seemingly torn apart over the proposal to build a possibly YMCA of Columbia-run sports complex.

On one side, you have Camden’s Open Mike and its associated blog; the Camden Recreation Referendum Coalition (CRRC), its Facebook page and blog; and the Camden Committee for Responsible Government (CCRG) and its Facebook page.

On the other, is Camden for the Y (CFTY) and its website.

Both sides have taken the time to at least look at or obtain documents. Both sides have attended Camden City Council and other meetings connected to the proposal. Both have offered their arguments and opinions for why the city should or should not build the sports complex with the YMCA possibly at the helm.

Sometimes, things have become heated. This has definitely been the case on the Camden's Open Mike Facebook page. We believe a number of comments by some Open Mike followers have been inflammatory, made simply to rile people up. That is the nature of services like Facebook. It is also their constitutional right and we're not advocating in any way that they be censored or the Facebook page be shuttered.

So far, we have not seen such comments on the CFTY's website, primarily due to its format. The group has said it has not launched a Facebook page because its members do not have the time to keep up with one. However, the CFTY likely would not have started its website had its members not believed they needed to respond to what they've seen on the “opposing” side. What they have posted on their site are still opinions, however, and must be treated as such.

Our point is this: their Facebook pages, blogs and websites -- pro or con -- are being used to advocate positions. They promote their respective agendas. They are not news organizations and do not follow the same journalistic principles we do here at the C-I. Martin L. Cahn is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, whose voluntary code of ethics suggests news organizations should seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently (of special interest obligations), and be accountable. We unofficially follow those tenets with every story we publish.

Our reporters attend meetings, interview people, pore through online and paper documents, write stories, call back interview subjects, rewrite stories and then start all over again for the next story -- all while performing other duties.

We have an editorial process where we and Editor Martha Bruce read over the staff’s work not just for spelling, grammar and punctuation, but to make sure what’s been written makes sense to our readers. We ask reporters questions to make sure readers will understand what is going on. We have reporters fact-check and do so ourselves if necessary. And we make sure their opinions and our opinions stay out of the news articles we publish on the front page.

If we, as a paper, have an opinion on something, we publish that opinion on the left side of this, our Viewpoint page. If we, as individual reporters and editors have an opinion -- and we feel comfortable publishing that opinion -- we do so in our columns on this page and page 3. We do so with the full knowledge that we are putting ourselves out there for scrutiny.

Just because one of us has an opinion on a particular issue  -- including the views expressed here -- doesn’t mean that reporter or editor shouldn’t be allowed to write a news story about it. It does mean that they have to exercise care to recognize they have those opinions and not allow them to creep into an article on that topic.

This is a full-time job for us. It is our vocation, our calling. The vast majority of bloggers, on the other hand, post on no more than a part-time basis. Most have full-time jobs or other obligations that take precedence. Some may take up a particular cause and blog it, set up a Facebook page for it or manage a website dedicated to it. Their mission is to tell you what they think about that topic, why you should support their side of a particular issue and, sometimes, to tear down their opponents.

That is not our mission.

Our mission is to report, without bias, as many sides of an issue as we can. Rarely is there just one side, or even just two sides. Our mission is to give you as much, if not all, of the information we believe you need to form your own opinions and conclusions.

Those seeking to come to their own conclusions about an issue should have a reasonable expectation that the information they find has been professionally presented without an agenda behind it. That is the mission of this newspaper.

Our only agenda is to tell Kershaw County’s story in the consistently professional way we have for more than 120 years. That’s a commitment and track record no blog, Facebook page or personal website can match. It’s a commitment we plan to keep during the next 120 years and beyond.

(Martin L. Cahn and Mike Mischner are, respectively, the associate editor and publisher of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. E-mail responses to camden@ci-camden.com or mmischner@ci-camden.com.)

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