Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are a fairly new frontier for journalism. I do believe the use of social media can help augment any news agency’s visibility and attract more readers/viewers. However, I do, at times, wonder if there are those using the realm of social media in a way that is detrimental to their’s and their organization’s credibility.
The notion of objectivity is not a new debate and I do not wish to beat that old horse here. However, it is easier, in my opinion, to make a valiant attempt at objectivity in a 300+ word news story or 1-3 minute broadcast then is possible in a 140-word tweet. I have known many journalists afflicted by the illusion of invulnerability the Internet seems to instill in many. They say anything without thinking about or fearing retribution. Many of the statements demonstrate clear biases towards the issues and people they are reporting on. Does this destroy a journalist’s or news agency’s credibility? Is it possible followers/readers will look at news coverage differently knowing the biases of the publishers behind it (although many are already assumed)? Is that knowledge detrimental to future readership? Or, is it allowing readers a way to better gauge content and where and how they will internalize it?
I have more than a decade of experience in journalism/communications and I find it difficult to answer those questions. Part of the problem, perhaps, is I am purest. I believe in objectivity and ensuring balanced coverage (although I don’t necessarily believe we achieve that by talking to people on both sides of an issue. Honestly, sometimes, there is only one side). I don’t pretend to believe a journalist can put away their biases and become a neutral automaton. I do believe, however, that a good journalist has the ability to tell a story fairly. Is it still possible for that same journalist to tell a story fairly after broadcasting to the world his or her scathing opinion of the subject matter? The answer may very well be yes. The question then becomes will anyone have faith fairness actually exists in what that journalist writes?
Perhaps more disturbing are the other statements tweeting journalist make which could easily be construed as defamatory. Is it because no one has truly tested the limits of the law when it comes to libel published in the social media domain? One day, will they be teaching in J-schools the do nots of Twitter and holding up many of the journalist and news accounts as examples? Most likely. We are still on the learning curve. Hopefully we don’t learn the what nots too late to save any credibility our field still clings to.
I have also seen many journalists whose work-Twitter and personal-Twitter accounts are one in the same. So it is common to read tweets about upcoming news items quickly followed by their weekend conquests. Obviously separating work and twitter accounts doesn’t solve the problem. In the public eye journalists are much like politicians; they are never not journalists. So should journalists be censoring themselves in certain areas when they tweet or blog? There are organizations which think yes and have created social media policies to back them up. The concerns in the post are evident that some have not and journalists are free to express themselves how they please.
In summation, I do believe journalists should view Twitter and social media as an extension of their careers and proceed in kind. Do posts about how drunk you got or how much the people you report on suck achieve that? If so. As you were.