When you hear the word “NEWS” what do you instantaneously associate it with? Perhaps you would think of a popular TV news programme, or a newspaper’s online portal, or even your favourite Social Media outlet, and if you like to keep it traditional, a newspaper. You may have not paid a lot of attention to the sources you mentioned, but two of those sources are deeply rooted in the internet. Moreover social media has been able to establish itself as a news source in the recent past, as it has established itself as a place to discover breaking news. However as social media becomes more and more popular as a news source, its credibitily and accountability is questioned.
If we look at Sri Lankan structured news reporting mediums it can be traced back to 1832 where the first newspaper “Colombo Journal” was published. However, since then structured news reporting and journalism has evolved to many forms from Radio to Television, and at present the internet. News has leapt many obstacles technologically and politically, yet the quality of journalism and news is constantly under scrutiny due to unconventional methods of reporting becoming an accepted form of news.
So what are such unconventional methods? Well, think about the last time you used Facebook, chances are among all the quotes, and music videos you would have come across certain news items. These posts would have been shared from the digital versions of newspapers, radio stations or TV channels, yet among those posts you would come across shares from another new news source “Gossip-Lanka News”.
The Oxford Dictionary defines Gossip as a
“Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true”,
what’s disturbing is that in the very definition of the word gossip it states that gossip involves details which are not confirmed true. When this definition is kept side by side with the 4 principles of ethical journalism set by the US Society of Professional Journalists, it makes us question the very fabric of this source.
Out of the previously mentioned four principles of Ethical Journalism the two principles which are at question in terms of Gossip-Lanka News’ Ethical Journalistic behavior are Seek Truth and Report It, and Be Accountable and Transparent.
In a country where journalistic standards are at question almost every day, the true question that arises is what is Truth? And why does Gossip-Lanka News lack in seeking and reporting it? In the perspective of journalism, Truth is explained by the American Press Institute as
“It is not the truth in the absolute or philosophical or scientific sense but rather a pursuit of “the truths by which we can operate on a day-to-day basis.””
So what is the truth that we can operate on a daily basis? Is it constant unsubstantiated accounts of events or are they events curated and justified with facts that are available at the moment? When looking at some of the posts of Gossip-Lanka News they appear to have been created simply for the purpose of sharing. These posts which have been constructed with the hopes that those who view them would want to share it with their friends is known as Sharebait. Which leads to the question as to whether the truth is, in reality, embedded in these sharebait posts of Gossip Lanka? And if it doesn’t, what is the extent to which their journalism contradicts with the principle of seeking the truth in journalism is questionable?
So does this lack of trust compromise the accountability and transparency that is expected from journalists? Before we delve deeper into the topic of accountability let’s identify what accountability is in terms of journalism. Accountability is how journalists are able “…to explain and justify the ways they perform the responsibilities given to them…” by the society. These responsibilities include identifying what social needs journalists have to respond in order to properly inform citizens. So can we actually hold a “news portal” such as Gossip-Lanka News accountable for their actions? Since the responsibilities of journalists have been clouded by the need for likes and shares.
Structurally, Gossip-Lanka News has many flaws when it comes to their journalism. Ideally such a source should have a low followership with a resonating amount of opposition due to it lack of effort to abide by the Principles of Ethical Journalism. However, this quite the contrary in Sri Lanka. In fact according SocialBaker’s statistics, Gossip-Lanka News’ Facebook page is the 12th highest liked page by local fans in Sri Lanka, this is the news source with the third highest amount of likes, following Hiru News and Lankadeepa Esanin Puvath. And the facebook page has more likes than TV Derana and Daily Mirror. While the website was ranked 10th popular website in Sri Lanka by Alexa .
So how did they get such a high rating? Firstly, they had a good mothership, Gossip Lanka. Gossip Lanka became the go to site in the early 2000’s while the high bandwidth internet was developing and social media networks were being introduced. And many Sri Lankans located locally and abroad dubbed this site as the site for all the rumors and scandals that Sri Lankan’s wanted to hear. The affiliation to a website that had every Sri Lankans interests aligned, paved the way for Gossip-Lanka News to establish themselves as a news source in the market.
Secondly, their sharebait posts are one more reason for their popularity. They use engaging articles, video, and images, in order to create an atmosphere for conversation. This engagement is induced through the very direct request to they have written on such posts asking for their audience to share it. These posts mainly focus on local celebrities or globally viral posts. Although these sharebait posts are one of the main influencing factors behind their success, these also are one leading reasons for their questionable status as a news source.
Does this mean that news journalism should be exclusively done by established media? While reporting scandals and rumors to Gossip Lanka? Well the answer to that can be looked in two ways. On one hand we have the obviously flawed journalistic standards of Gossip-Lanka News, which makes this site less trustworthy as a news media. On the other hand, if Gossip Lanka News takes steps to correct their errors or pay more care and consideration to the truth and accountability, it could be instated as a sound news source. Furthermore, if they limit the number of gossip posts on this site and page, while using the Gossip Lanka site and page for these scandals and rumors would further improve their reliability. For example, MTV News which is a part of the MTV network focuses mainly on celebrity news stories in their site and Facebook Page, while reporting certain political highlights.
The ethics and standards of news journalism should not be expendable with the growth of Social Media usage. In fact, it should be given more attention and even further developed to create access for good quality journalism in Sri Lanka.