Journalism of verification in the internet era | Inquirer Opinion
Moving Into High Gear

Journalism of verification in the internet era

/ 05:04 AM February 01, 2024

Can good old journalism thrive in the modern internet era? The larger question is: why should we care?

In 2021, at the height of the proliferation of fake news, deepfake videos, and conspiracy theories like “plandemic,” United States journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel revised “The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect” for the fourth time. The authors, who have worked for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, respectively, defined journalism as “storytelling with a purpose.”

“The Elements of Journalism,” first published in 2001, asked whether journalism can sustain in the 21st century “the purpose that forged it in the three and a half centuries that came before.”


New Models of Journalism. The answer, dear reader, is a resounding yes but only if journalists continue to abide by the rigors of the more traditional journalism of verification (accuracy, context, objectivity, and completeness) over what Kovach and Rosenstiel described as the new journalism of assertion, affirmation, and aggregation.


A journalism of assertion produces news in a “constant stream of raw components” like breaking news, live blogs, and livestream; affirmation is represented by talk shows that merely affirm preconceptions or biases of certain groups; and aggregation is epitomized by Google’s aggregation of content within its online reach, netizens sharing posts made by others without much verification, and emergence of b/vloggers.

The process of verification is both slow and tedious. But is it still achievable in an internet-connected age where speed and convenience are valued over accuracy and completeness? A digitally interconnected media environment, however, is susceptible to manipulation by purveyors of fake news or half-truths since “the public and sometimes even journalists themselves are passing along work they cannot possibly vouch for … and that we accept this now without a second thought,” Kovach and Rosenstiel astutely noted.

It thus behooves upon the reading public to demand good journalism from journalists—and those presenting themselves as such—because the “burden of verification has been passed incrementally from the news deliverer to the consumer,” the authors warned.

Chaff from the grain. The veracity of anything you find on the web is largely up to you, dear reader. You must separate the chaff from the grain yourself because Google, Facebook, and X, for instance, don’t do it for you. On the contrary, they rely on an algorithm that works in such a way that it can track your online activities, endlessly feeding you with similar content from your previous websites’ visits, page views, and clicks.

Instead of giving you the big picture of the burning issues of the day, this computerized algorithm further solidifies your own confirmation bias by serving news and information that suit your worldview and interests. The computer-directed siloing of individuals increases online sales, but it also divides society into different ideological camps instead of fostering understanding and compassion among us all.

Good old journalism has a built-in safety valve against the destructive effects of falsehoods and half-truths through a process of verification that uses paper trail, alternative voices, and crowdsourcing of information that can dig deeper into the root causes of a problem or issue, deliberately going beyond official pronouncements. Readers should demand more from journalists, not less, regardless of the 24/7 access provided by Google and social media platforms.


Readers should not be satisfied with stories that lack freshness and context. You should also be careful when reading reports that are obviously propaganda materials and one-sided, with the news organization taking its sweet time to get the other side, if at all.

‘Original Sin.’ We are now in a “world in which an initial error in reporting or editing or interpretation can turn into a kind of original sin that influences us forever,” Kovach and Rosenstiel likewise warned.

According to them, the purpose—the underlying function of journalism and the service it must provide for the public—has not changed: journalists’ first obligation is to the truth, which will set us free from ignorance and manipulation. Journalists, however imperfect they are, speak to the prevailing culture, taking into account both the good and the bad aspects of it.

This column, “Moving Into High Gear,” takes inspiration from the notion that our country is in a race or journey to achieving excellence. We, Filipinos, should raise the bar in whatever context we find ourselves in instead of slacking while our Southeast Asian neighbors are accelerating their investments in human and social capital as if it were a matter of life and death.

Every Thursday, this column will offer a nuanced assessment of select issues that matter to the Filipino nation, without any fear or favor. Expect alternative viewpoints to be given space here.


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