The official definition of ‘social news network’ @rapplerdotcom

I came across some chatter on Twitter today regarding some kind of issue around something “veteran journalist” Marites Vitug wrote about the Philippines’ University of Santo Tomas reportedly granting a doctorate in law, summa cum laude, to Chief Justice Renato Corona without requiring a dissertation. I’m thinking, whatever. Granting degrees and distinctions on any person, in my opinion, is in principle at the full discretion of a learning institution. A university’s reputation is built upon the quality of its products and, as such, the UST is at liberty to stake its reputation on Corona who now bears the university’s credentials.

Vitug, being a journalist, made a story out of it. That’s what journalists do, in the same way scorpions can’t help but sting. People are free to decide whether said story makes a compelling case, in the same way we decide whether universities like the UST are not the sort that simply parcel out academic credentials for the heck of it. There really is nothing complicated about that.

The more interesting aspect of this latest buzz making waves among the chattering classes of the Philippine “social media” scene is how much of it has to do with the newest “in” thing making waves, the “social news network” site Rappler.com.

Whatever it is a “social news network” is, the term is already being bandied around. On a post on the site hyping the questionable notion that “online journalism is the future” (a misleading title considering that that article is actually a response to a position the UST has taken not to respond to Vitug’s “report” which was published on Rappler), the term is presented with some air of authority at the foot of the “report”…

Rappler is a social news network, whose journalists have worked for global news organizations and top Filipino news groups. We are proud to be “online journalists.” We promise uncompromised journalism that inspires smart conversations and ignites a thirst for change.

The link in the above snippet leads to the “About” page of Rappler.com. Sifting through all the tired platitudes about the honour of being in the proud practice of journalism yielded not a single trace of clarification around the term “social news network”.

So I might do what I do best which is define the term for the editors of Rappler.

A social news network is an information dissemination system where the information being disseminated is given the label “news”. The system is composed of elements that can be broadly categorised as (1) content creators (2) content consumers, and (3) content contributors. The network domain is bound by the medium which serves as the repository within which information persists. The network is “social” because the elements that form said network are people.

In short, the term “social news network” is nothing new. It is just one instance of what has long been the memetic information exchange network that has existed since the first “ugh” by a caveman was given meaning by another caveman who happened to be within earshot of said utterance.

If Rappler wants to describe itself as such, the only thing missing is in how it defines its domains (which means, defining what binds it) so that it can be considered to be a persistent network with an identity (which really is just a hi-fallutin’ way of saying, Rappler should tell us what it stands for and how it distinguishes itself in the broader social media network in more precise terms). Indeed, the definition above already applies to “social media” at large — an information dissemination superstructure where boundaries have been blurred by the features of the technology platforms that give it life.

So can Rappler.com really distinguish itself using such a term as “social news network”?

In my opinion, it’s overcommitted itself to a notion it hardly understands. Even as I write this, the chattering classes exchanging disembodied 140-character snippets that pass off as “insight” are struggling to wrap their heads around what exactly the term means. I think they struggle because they are trying to backward-engineer the concept to something that fits what Rappler aspires to be. The trouble is, as I already pointed out above, the term “social news network” is essentially a nonsensical term. As the Rappler.com folk like to continuously emphasise, they are a team of “online journalists” — essentially combining a new concept, online, with a dinosaurian one, journalist. Result: convolusion.

Indeed, despite Rappler.com‘s claim to being the new new “thing”, it introduces Vitug in a very traditional way…

The request for a University of Sto Tomas (UST) position was made by Marites Danguilan-Vitug, whose body of work as a journalist stretches back 30 years and is the author of one of the world’s top 10 books on courts and justice systems, “Shadow of Doubt.” She is the founder of Newsbreak, which has operated as a magazine and online for more than a decade until it joined Rappler in December 2011.

That sounds like something my grampa would write, guys.

Credentials work for people who need to earn respect before the fact of earning it. But in a mass communications ecosystem that is rapidly flattening thanks to the very technology that the Rappler.com copywriters fail to demonstrate a savvy understanding of, credentials are becoming less relevant. Rather, the ability to persist as a credible source of insight is now built directly upon the merit and quality of what one says and writes consistently. And that is what “social news networks” ultimately do — turn news and the “reporters” who “report” them to the no more than the commodities that they are today.

print

39 Comments on “The official definition of ‘social news network’ @rapplerdotcom”

  1. I said I was going to be open-minded about this new thing, but it took them only a day with one traditionally-pinoy gossipy story and a whole lot of self-promotion to put paid to that idea.

    1. i saw their promo video, and despite their claims of objectivity and being beholden to nobody, as soon as i saw lala rimando (abs-cbn) whose unsubstantiated writing is partly responsible for causing banco filipino a bank run in march 2011, my eyes rolled. more bullshit coming our way.

  2. Wla na talaga kredibilidad si Corona. Lahat ginawa para makuha ang gusto nya. Hnd ako mgugulat kung guilty sya sa impeachment. Dpat nya pagbayaran ang kanyang mga kasalanan

  3. “Tsismis Network” (instead of “social news network’) operated by “Internet Tsismosas” (instead of intenet journalists) would be the apt terms to describe the operation and the operators.

    1. One very revealing aspect of the behaviour of Rappler.com is how they pompously expect UST to to respond to their queries. Very traditional sense of entitlement on their part. Tsk tsk.

      1. I don’t think stating that the UST failed to provide them the necessary reply that would’ve allowed them to air their side when the story was first published on Rappler, can be described as a show of self-entitlement and “pompous”–a term that many people lambasting Rappler forget to apply to editors/journalists/writers who put in their articles statements like “X, however, could not be reached for comment as of press time.”

        I understand that editors/journalists/writers who do that are usually pressed for time and only have half a day, one week or one month to get a source’s side.
        But to wait for six or five months? That’s a different issue. And it can’t be called “demanding.” It is, in barkada speak, “forever.”

        Rappler used all the means of communication anybody practically should use if s/he wants to decently and politely get information from an institution like the UST. Literal na inabutan na sila ng Pasko, wala pa rin silang reply.

        For the series of correspondences, see this: http://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/652-updated-what-we-asked-ust-about-corona-s-thesis

        Such delay in providing a decent response to questions on Corona’s degree can only mean one or a combination of the following:

        1. The UST PR person is simply not resourceful enough, if not lazy and inefficient. Surely, the UST officials Rappler was looking for could not have been as busy as the President. If they were busy/tired/lazy/reluctant enough to face or type a response for some pesky Rappler whats-her-face, the PR person could’ve elicited or finagled some kind of explanation from them that would enlighten the inquirer. PR people of ADB and World Bank, example, really exert effort to provide a practical response to inquiries.

        2. The UST PR person is neither lazy nor inefficient and she really tried bugging the concerned UST officials to help some person who’s been asking for their reply for already almost half a year. But it’s just that the officials were indeed “at a loss,” not on how to reply, but on WHAT to reply to Rappler.

        3. The UST had this line of conversation with itself:
        “What the hell is Rappler? [Googles it] Oh, okay. [searches their library and finds Rappler has no print version] Ah…Rappler, just some good-for-nothing.”

        Why does the UST even have to question “online journalism”? Why does the inquirer have to be someone from the Inquirer, or any other more popular media outfit for that matter? Does one have to be somebody to get their response (not that the Rappler people are not yet “somebody”)?

        The thing is the UST simply did not think Rappler would make enough ripples as to cast doubt on the school’s credibility and integrity. That’s why even if the request letters had become towards the end more specific and strongly-worded–the last one even warning them of publishing the story without their side–the UST still did not grant Rappler an interview or any answer even in the form of unintelligible Latin scribbled on a used table napkin from a random carinderia.

        The UST had to wait before the article gets published in a major circulation newspaper.
        Does that have to do with UST being [an] old school? Did the UST think that just because Rappler.com is relatively new that maybe its staff and a handful of their friends visit its pages, making practically anything published on its pages unheard of?

        I think the UST would’ve been better off if it merely replied, “Sorry, all circuits are busy now. Please try contacting us later. “

        1. I don’t think Rappler’s behaviour can be described as just stating matter-of-factly that “X, however, could not be reached for comment as of press time”. There seems to be a whole thread of self-important foot stomping and scrounging around for chimers-in following that quaint little snub on the part of UST.

          Whatever the reasons of UST are for the “delay” in their response (and they may very well be any or all of those you postulated), they are well within their rights to (1) reply in any manner and in any timeframe as they see fit and (2) choose who to speak to. Who could blame them for not acting on the basis of an assumption (which we assume ourselves) that Rappler isn’t capable of making “enough ripples” on the subject; and then acting (i.e. talking to the Inquirer.net) when they felt said ripples? You of all people should know that’s how things work in the Philippines. You sick a chihuahua on me. Fine. If it proves to be a big enough inconvenience to me, I’ll sick a pit bull on you.

          The Rappler folk (“online journalists”, right?) should start coming to terms with the reality that they are working for a startup and no longer for a big media organisation — and welcome themselves to the world they described in their own words as “social news network” reporting.

  4. The Vitug article smacks of personal motivations against someone rather than a real desire to get to the truth. It may even be “twisted” truth in the end.

    Perhaps UST should indeed release a statement slamming the Vitug article and urging people to be more responsible.

    1. No they shouldn’t. Is Marites Vitug in a position to judge UST’s criteria for the awarding of doctoral degrees? Of course not, unless she is a member of the Board of Regents. What she’s produced is an opinion. Take it or leave it, everyone’s entitled to one. If UST responds, all they’re doing is acknowledging that their own standards are subject to review by some blogger.

    2. UST does not have to explain anything to anybody — and certainly not to Vitug. If Rappler.com plans to raise a stink about it, that’s also their prerogative. Whether that stink flies (or attracts flies) becomes a function of the way a “social news network” presumably works.

    1. I wrote about this sense of entitlement among journalists a while back here. I highlighted the way they make the pompous declaration “Media kami!” whenever they find themselves in a situation where they expect to be given preferential treatment.

  5. Journalism in the Philippines, has prostituted itself to Patron Politicians; who pay them for their services rendered. By sanitizing the stink of their Patron Politician; grooming his/her image….so that she/he will be accepted by the voters…In social media, there are some bloggers, who do the same. By the way they write: you will know them. By the way they write: it’s easy to spot a blogger who is promoting any vested interest…

  6. rappler is the yellows attempt to promote their views on social media.
    there is nothing independepent or balanced about it.
    it has been 1 year in planning and is very secretive about its funding, which in itself says a lot.
    sad that maria ressa would be involved. clearly her last pay day/pension

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.