Influence of the digital media on the quality of the information: “the Sherrod case”

Emergence of the Web 2.0

The development of internet and particularly the passage of the Web 2.0 allow the users to become an important element in the world of journalism. The professional journalists cannot avoid the criticisms, comments and point of views given by the citizens. The social networks are now important parts of the sources in which the journalists find essential elements to create information. However, the call to a “reader journalist” or to a “witness of event”, encouraging the reader to put online (on the website of newspaper for instance) his blog, his photos or his videos, increase the risk of diffusing wrong news.

A good journalist should always check his sources. However, the acceleration of the rate of the information, that must be published the quickest in order to be the first to have the “news”, often pushes the journalists to rush their work and not verified consistently their sources. Thus, the acceleration due to the digital media makes automatically explode the number of media slippage.

Even more, as digital media becomes influential, the journalists base more and more their agenda setting according to the traffic influence of information (wrong or right) on these media. Thus, the quality of the information is not the priority anymore, but it is the one that makes the biggest “buzz” on the internet that will be a priority in the agenda setting selected by the journalist. The diffusion and coverage of an event are not based on its quality and on its consistency, but on its popularity.

Before the Web 2.0, an information was filtered and then published, whereas now it has the tendency to be published first and checked later. These mistakes and inconsistencies can lead to disastrous consequences, especially when a person is implicated. This is the case for the “Sherrod case” that happened in 2010, when a not verified information related by a digital media made the “buzz” on the internet. Because of its popularity on the web, the information was then taken back, without having been verified, by the FOX. The facts were then checked and proved to be wrong, but the damages were already done and a worker lost her job.

“The Sherrod Case”

The case starts in July 2010, when a website close to the high conservative movement of Tea Party, , made and written by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, posted an edited video of a speech made by an Afro-American state worker women called Shirley Sherrod. This cut video gives the impression that she made racist remarks against white farmers. 

The video was instantly taken and multiplied by the “buzz” on internet and by the biggest American media, especially Fox News. The “information” quickly provoked a huge scandal. Indeed, less than 24hr after the “news” was revealed and the minister of agriculture fired Shirley Sherrod.

However, the state worker quickly showed her innocence by simply diffusing the full video, that no media did consult.

After that, all the media spoke about this subject, saying that it was intolerable.


However, the reputation of the Shirley Sherrod was already ruined.

This example shows well what I said before: the popularity of information on the web has surpassed the quality of it. It also shows that journalistic work is put under pressure, and he often publishes information without having checked the veracity of the facts before.

Obama’s excuses

Even Obama will present excuse to Shirley Sherrod in person. Through an interview made on ABC News, the president said that people, and especially the government has to be carefull of the information related on digital media: “we now live in this media culture where something goes up on YouTube or a blog and everybody scrambles”. Thus he pointed out what everybody should do before believing an information coming from a digital media: checking the information by recouping the source.

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