This past Monday, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two journalists behind the first cracking of the Watergate scandal, spoke at the American Society of News Editors’ conference. Woodward thinks that reporting does not belong on the Internet.
“The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet,” Woodward said. “[The Internet] can supplement. It can help advance. But the truth resides with people. Human sources.
Bernstein also spoke about how today’s journalism compares with the past.
“We had a readership that was much more open to real fact than today,” Bernstein said.
He added that if the Watergate scandal were covered today, the story wouldn’t “withstand this cultural reception. It might get ground up in the process.”
Woodward is not that receptive to social media. He says that while blogs and social networks promote healthy dialogue among citizens, the constant connection is not necessarily a good thing. He did comment that social media can aid the public sift through information and find out what’s relevant.
The Internet’s role in journalism is a conflicting issue between digital natives and digital immigrants. For digital natives, they are able to capitalize on their knowledge of the Web and technology and apply their skills in news gathering or reporting. Although most journalists adhere to traditional methods of news-gathering such as human contact with sources, the Internet provides alternatives of communication: email, social networking, and video chatting. With a single Google search, journalists are able to find background information of any possible subject. Nonetheless, natural journalism does not exist unless a reporter directly interacts with a source. A reporter is able to not only obtain quotes, but also gain a human connection with a source, and this experience can add personality to a story.
While the Internet supplies an influx of information, not everything is accurate and verified, and this problem must trouble both Woodward and Bernstein. As Bernstein said, unlike today, readership was more exposed to facts. Today, citizens are pressed to find up-to-the-minute information that they would succumb to whatever is unverified and inaccurate. The 24-hour cycle of importing and exporting information has caused people to heavily depend on the Internet.
If coverage of a Watergate-type story happened today, the scandal would be overblown by not only professional journalists, but also the public acting as citizen journalists. Important pieces of information would be leaked online and dispersed throughout social networking. Newspapers and tabloids alike would vie for the first controversial revelations about the scandal. Since broadcast journalism has evolved since the 70s, the story would dominate nightly news and cable news networks. Certainly, Watergate dominated headlines during its time, but coverage of a historic scandal of such magnitude would be overwhelming today.