At UK, Poynter Institute faculty member says journalists must help make sense of world

In the online environment of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, journalists' jobs are more important than ever, said Al Tompkins, senior faculty for broadcast and online at the Poynter Institute.

The call: "Filter out what's news and what's nonsense."

"The central role of journalists now, it seems to me, is sense-making," Tompkins said. "We're called to make sense of the world."

Tompkins, a graduate of Western Kentucky University, is a multimedia instructor who has taught workshops for numerous media clients and on college campuses throughout the country. The Poynter Institute, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., works to promote "excellence and integrity" in the media by providing training and educational resources for journalists.

On Tuesday night, Tompkins delivered the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications' annual Joe Creason Lecture.

His presentation was titled "We Have Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, Do We REALLY Need Journalists?"

The prevalence of bad information to be found online during the hunt for those responsible for the bombings at the Boston Marathon last week illustrates the need, Tompkins said.

Before the suspects were identified, the front page of the New York Post featured a large photo of two men purported to be involved in the bombing.

They weren't.

Then there was a photo of a man walking atop a building near the bomb site that circulated amid speculation that "he must have something to do with it," Tompkins said.

He didn't.

After the bombing suspects' names were released, false Twitter accounts quickly began springing up.

And now, Tompkins said, there are "leaks" of what the bomber has supposedly said from his hospital bed.

"How do we know what he said?" Tompkins said. "Those are the questions that journalists should be asking."

Tompkins said Twitter and YouTube have a powerful influence on world events.

A case in point: on Tuesday afternoon, the Associated Press's Twitter account was hacked, and a false posting was made, saying that the president had been injured in an explosion at the White House.

In the minutes immediately following that posting, the stock market dropped.

"Twitter has global implications," Tompkins said. "It's up to us as news consumers to start asking better questions."

This was the 36th year for the Joe Creason Lecture, which honors the memory of Creason, who wrote for the Courier-Journal.