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Micro blogs a means not an end

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-02-11 07:40
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Those harboring doubts about micro-blogging should now be convinced that micro blogs can play an effective role in mobilizing society for a just course.

But professional journalists, while celebrating the great achievement of micro blogs, should double their vigilance over hoax news.

Around Jan 27, Yu Jianrong, professor of rural development at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, posted a micro blog message on Sina.com, calling on netizens to take pictures of child beggars so as to help rescue them.

In less than two weeks, netizens uploaded more than 1,000 photos on several popular websites. From a photo taken in Jiangsu province, Peng Gaofeng, a Hubei province native who runs a mobile phone shop in Shenzhen, was able to identify his son, who was abducted three years ago. With the help of the police in Shenzhen and Jiangsu, Peng was reunited with his son on Feb 8.

There is every reason to celebrate the Pengs' reunion and the rescue of at least five other kidnapped children with the help of the micro blog.

Major domestic print media have published editorials and commentaries highlighting the assistance that the micro blog rendered.

Chen Shiqu, who heads the national campaign against people trafficking at the Ministry of Public Security, promised via his micro blog that his office welcomes the public providing clues and would maintain communication with the public via micro blog services and other channels.

"Our office will have every clue investigated," Chen wrote.

By Thursday, Yu's message had garnered more than 160,000 fans with more than 2,500 people posting follow-up micro blogs.

China's first successful micro blog website Fanfou.com was launched in 2007. The past year saw the micro-blogging population swell to more than 63 million, accounting for 13.8 percent of the total online users in China.

Today, micro blogs have become an important new medium for people to obtain news, express their opinions, engage in social networking and participate in public campaigns.

For journalists, micro blogs are a source of news and a platform for spreading news. However, the increasing popularity of micro blogs has become a double-edged sword.

One of the top 10 phony news stories last year first appeared via micro blog, wrongly announcing the death of legendary kung fu novel writer Louis Cha. Another micro blog message falsely claimed that contemporary online literature was replacing modern literary works in school textbooks.

Hoax news can also spread like wildfire on the Internet, and not only in China. There were stories of a second volcano erupting in Iceland and that Caltech scientists predicted that a major earthquake was to take place in a matter of days last year.

Worst of all, since a lot of so-called news flashes appear in micro blogs with a limit of 140 Chinese characters per posting, some people conveniently use this to their advantage by creating sensational headlines without substantiating their claims simply to drive up their number of followers.

The sad thing is, traditional mainstream news media face the danger of losing sight of their own news values and ethics in order to woo the huge number of netizens and micro-bloggers. They often sacrifice their own news and reporting agendas and devote their resources to following up the bogus claims of micro blogs or other Internet outlets as "potential" news leads.

Editors and even reporters often rely on the Internet for news leads, instead of going to the grassroots in search of story ideas. There is more and more copying and pasting of Internet news.

As professional journalists, we welcome citizens joining us in reporting news. However, we should not shirk our responsibility in making sure we get right all the news elements: who, what, when, where, why and how.

Otherwise we are likely to lose our long-held journalistic values.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. E-mail: lixing@chinadaily.com.cn

 

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