Fact or fantastic? By Muhammad Shehryar Khakwani - Sunday 10th April 2011

CHER was on Jay Leno’s talk show when asked about meeting someone on Facebook. She replied that she had, but joked about how she could not use her own name as ‘Cher’ was already taken by somebody pretending to be her.When protests took hold of Bahrain, a colleague showed me an e-mail with pictures of how a crowd had destroyed shopping malls there. It later turned out to have been a shopping plaza in Cairo, but somebody had decided to change the caption to Bahrain and started spawning a chain of e-mails.
How willing are we to believe everything that floats into our inbox? The epitome of gullibility was when once a panic-filled co-worker ushered me into her office and remarked about how terrorists had blown up the biggest shopping centre in town. Oddly enough, her window had a view of the centre, and when I remarked that it still stood there, she told me I was wrong and
pointed to her computer screen showing me an e-mail which claimed it was gone.
The electronic media is great for those wanting multiple sources of information. Although picking up a newspaper from one’s front step every morning is still one of life’s little pleasures, I do enjoy being able to read virtually any newspaper and news magazine online. Digital content has revolutionised accessibility. Not only can we get to news websites using our laptops or
iPads, we can sign up for news feeds and they will practically push the content into our pockets.
It is not just access to the media which has transformed how we get our news, it is also the capability of nearly anyone to provide us with it. This raises the issue of credibility. Virtually anyone can use Facebook or Twitter and quickly distribute content, or send e-mails with pictures and videos, and become a publisher or news reporter. In fact, these have proved effective and key methods of getting information out when the state imposes controls on traditional media.
Still, should one believe every grainy video taken from a cellphone and uploaded on the Internet, or accept as true all the photographs and tweets conferring insight? One has to be wary.
The print media is facing a challenge to stay relevant. Online readership and revenues worldwide have surpassed print
editions. I am not sure if this is true in Pakistan, but I am certain that one day it will be. The Huffington Post, a leading online-only newspaper, receives nearly 25 million visitors a month and was recently bought by AOL for $315m.
In the new world, blogs and RSS feeds make the morning paper obsolete by the time it hits our front door. Digital content is
doing to paper media what Ted Turner’s CNN did to the 6 o’clock news.
More than ever, there is an urgency to be first; to report first and know first; to opine and analyse first. It seems to be an obsession which trumps all the steps where the writer actually goes through the task of verifying, thinking and finding relevant examples before putting pen to paper.
Well-established media organisations are working on reinventing themselves to offer digitally appealing content and stay relevant. Trusted news organisations, which pride themselves on reputations built over years, still follow practices which lead to accurate reporting. Personally, I tend to follow recognised enterprises which have reporters on the ground sending verified news reports.
It has never been easier to stay informed, nor has it been easier to be led astray. At the risk of sounding too much like a sceptic, if it sounds too unlikely to be true, it probably is.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/10/fact-or-fantastic.html

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