Slow and Steady Wins the Race in Online Journalism

For the sake of transparency, I’ll just say it. I’m biased.

At USC, there are two student-run news outlets, and I have always worked for the official campus newspaper, the Daily Trojan. The alternative student publication, Neon Tommy, is an online only news website endorsed by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, covering the area outside of USC, while the Daily Trojan, focuses on the USC campuses. So when there is breaking news on campus, it’s hard not to compare each outlet’s coverage.

That very situation presented itself earlier this week, when USC administration issued new sanctions against Greek events held on The Row, the street near campus where most sororities and fraternities are housed. Neon Tommy posted a story online with limited-to-no sourcing and a few small errors early in the day, then an updated version of the story was posted later with links to the social media accounts of a student referenced in the article and sources which included, “various campus sources,” and “Facebook friends” of the student, confirming her identity. Their lack of solid sources and willingness to publish information about a student without confirmation from an official source was troubling to me as an editor of a news publication and a journalism major.

Daily Trojan special projects editor Daniel Rothberg recently addressed all of these issues in a column, along with the fact that Neon Tommy was later cited by CBS News and the Los Angeles Times, and I do not wish to re-hash them. What I do want to make clear is that I am uncomfortable with the fact that the journalism school I attend condones the mentality of being first over being accurate that is often associated with online journalism.

Annenberg abides by a common policy among journalism schools that students are to receive an “F” on an assignment should there be any factual errors, including misspellings on proper nouns. Based on that rule, Neon Tommy’s story would have failed more than once, which I personally find unacceptable for a publication that is officially sponsored by a nationally recognized journalism school.

I also realize that, as a student, these student publications come with a learning curve, and mistakes are sometimes to be expected and learned from. In my opinion, however, it’s not the errors themselves that are troubling, but the cavalier attitude that the editors of Neon Tommy seem to have about publishing sensitive information without proper sourcing. After all, today’s student journalists will be the leaders of the media tomorrow.

I am extremely proud of the story that the Daily Trojan writers and editors published, and I applaud both publications for working diligently to bring news to the attention of the public. I can only hope that Annenberg will practice what they preach in the future.

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3 thoughts on “Slow and Steady Wins the Race in Online Journalism

  1. Your comparison of the two main campus news outlets is very informative. I’m a DT fan myself, and reading the amateur-hour coverage that Neon Tommy was putting out in the wake of that incident did not raise my opinion of Annenberg. While the DT seems to at least make an effort to emulate the NYT or WSJ, it seems that Neon Tommy has instead chosen to embrace the style of Gawker Media and TMZ. While both those media outlets can get pretty ribald at times, even they typically appreciate the need for proper sourcing.

  2. Thank you SO much for this post. This article in Neon Tommy actually received a lot of backlash from my sorority since the “facebook friends” in question happened to be the girl’s best friend from home, and she is a girl in my sorority. In fact, they even mentioned my sorority’s name in the post and we had pretty much nothing to do with the incident. It was extremely troubling for me, and I couldn’t imagine how that girl’s family feels after reading an article like that. I know they later took the information out, however that article had gone viral and so many people had read the article before they removed the personal information and social media links. Therefore, the damage had already been done. I think the Neon Tommy writers should have at least issued some sort of apology statement for all of the harm this article caused, but I think this is a good lesson for them for the future to consider ethics and factual correctness before publishing an article. This is especially true for articles put online as once it’s online, it’s pretty much there forever.

  3. As a former writer and editor for the DT, I will admit that I am biased. That being said, Neon Tommy undermined journalism ethics with their article about the incident on The Row. Errors will always be part of journalism because humans obviously aren’t perfect. If an error is made, its a publications responsibility to make the correction that explains the change in the article and the mistake that was previously made. When errors are covered up and left unrecognized by the news organization, its reputation is tarnished by the reader. Since Neon Tommy is sponsored by Annenberg, they should be expected to exemplify the standards of the school more than any other publication on campus. Thanks for the post!

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