National press on Haley vs. WACH; journalists debate social media

Randy Covington, Dr. Charles Bierbauer, Brad Warthen

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Gov. Nikki Haley's criticism of WACH Fox as a "tabloid news station" this week, followed by the station's call for a retraction and apology, continues to make national news.

National journalism organizations such as Politico, Huffington Post and Mediaite published articles detailing Haley's criticism of WACH Fox for its decision to cover new allegations of an "inappropriate physical relationship" made by blogger, and former press secretary for Gov. Mark Sanford, Will Folks.

The Charlotte, N.C., Fox affiliate covered the story during its Wednesday evening newscast; so did our Myrtle Beach sister station, ABC affiliate WPDE NewsChannel 15. Charleston City Paper published an editorial critical of Haley on Wednesday, which was followed by a Thursday post in TheDigitel Charleston. Former editorial page editor of The State Newspaper, Brad Warthen, supported the station in a blog post Thursday; that post was in response to a blog post by Republican strategist, and regular WACH Fox Pub Politics guest, Wesley Donehue, arguing elected officials are now able to bypass journalists to reach the public through social media.

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Public reaction to the controversy remains intense. As of Friday afternoon, more than 400 people had commented on a station web poll asking for your opinion on Haley's criticism and the WACH response.

More than two-thirds of you say the governor's actions weaken her and cheapen the office of governor. 24 percent of responses think Gov. Haley's reaction strengthens her and shows her to be an aggressive leader. Nine percent of those responding thus far are unsure of the impact.

WACH Fox News spoke with three local journalism experts Thursday; their consensus is Gov. Haley's use of Facebook to attack a traditional media outlet shows the mindset of many people is changing.

Randy Covington is a former longtime WIS News 10 news director who now heads the IFRA Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. According to the university's website, Newsplex is essentially a laboratory for training journalists how to incorporate social media and other tools to help news organizations better serve their audience.

Covington says politicians at all levels will continue to embrace social media because they see it as a way to bypass traditional media and speak directly to the public.

"I don't see the alternative to that," says Covington. "There's so many sources of information and it's so easily accessible that it almost seems arrogant for those of us in the media to has to pass through us."

Warthen sees shades of the past in the latest trend to bypass journalists and speak directly to the people. He compares the use of Facebook to a different innovation in the 1960s when Richard Nixon pioneered the use of direct mail during his successful run for President.

Dean of USC's journalism school, Dr. Charles Bierbauer, agrees the instant nature of social media makes communication easier than ever; but he says the trade-off for instant access is that information gathered from social media should be viewed as less trustworthy because it often is not fact-checked, verified and scrutinized prior to release like news from traditional media.

"You've got to be savvy about what the information is (and) where it's coming from," said Bierbauer.

So what do you think about the trend of elected officials and politicians seeking to bypass journalists to speak directly to the public via social media? Do you think the actions of Gov. Haley or WACH Fox are correct? What do you think about the decision of most mainstream S.C. journalists to ignore the story even while it makes national news? As always, we want to hear from you.