Friday, April 22, 2011

Journalists, opinions and the code of conduct on social media

Journalists should behave on social media exactly as they do on air or in print. Meaning:

- An assignment reporter should stick to reporting the facts on the ground in their SM stream

- A veteran journalist who also appears as an analyst should share his/her analysis. That’s why people are interested in them in the first place.

-An assignment editor should be engaging in news gathering and fact finding but not in conversations involving opinion on the news.

- A personality who's outgoing and already in the public eye should carry on the same line of engagement on social media as they do in their real life. This includes sharing information about their life, family, hobbies and pastime. People are intrigued by personalities' personal life and feel they can learn a lot from them.

- Defining “opinion” is important. I draw a line between a professional opinion and a personal opinion. You might disagree with a situation but weigh in with a professional opinion that might sound biased to the audience. While the audience might not be able to discern the difference. We, the journalists and media executives, should.

My opinion on media organizations asking their staff to use social media on their behalf is this:

If you treat every tweet as a broadcast or publication, then ask ONLY those who appear on air or get published to tweet or post on your behalf. Also, it is your duty and responsibility to provide those journalists with copy editors, ethics gurus and legal support for every post before it goes out. All the rules in place now are meant to protect the organization NOT the journalists. That's why media organizations should either change the rules, relax them, come up with new rules for social media or stop asking journalists to get on social media on their behalf.

We're human beings with baggage, people know that by now. They expect it. It's much better to be who we are on social media rather than hide who we are, what makes us special, what makes us experts in our domain, and pretend to be all the same "objective" people. Do I need to remind you that "objectivity" is the most subjective term around? Do you ever think that someone's "truth" is another person's "lie" and what the word "terrorist" conjures up to a group represents a "freedom fighter" to another?

If organizations are to apply the same rules in social media as on air or in print then THEY MUST provide the editorial fact-checking and support they do in their newsrooms. Otherwise they shouldn’t be asking anyone to represent them on social media. Before jumping to dismiss this suggestion, make sure you have an alternative that protects the journalist.

Social media have different rules and affords a unique forum for engagement. It’s all about sharing expertise and opinion. Journalists have a responsibility to their audience to be transparent and accurate. They should engage, show personality, share expertise and professional opinions. This will enrich the conversation and open the doors for dialogue.

We live in the age of free information flow where our audience is imposing the editorial agenda. Media organizations can't pretend not to know about events happening in the most remote regions of the world. People on social media will make sure everyone knows. It is time media shed their traditional ideas and start thinking in terms of connectivity, flow, transparency instead of acting like they have something to hide.

This post was inspired by two articles and a tweet. Find all three below:

@Mediabistro #feedbackfriday Should journos avoid expressing their opinions in their social media comments?

Journalists and Social Media: How Far is Too Far?

Newspapers and Social Media: Still Not Really Getting It


Keep the conversation going...

Anonymous Simeon Johnson said...

You’ve left no stone unturned, pointing out the needs for journalistic and editorial ethics in the SM, and less need for journalistic cavil. RT@Thegoodlifeis

April 22, 2011 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger Oussama's Take said...

Media organisations like a lot of other industries have not understood Social Media. They understand its impact but don't know how to deal with it. We live in a world where litigation is the norm. I don't like something I haul you to court, and Media is probably the most vulnerable. Unless these organisations come together and lay down a different set of rules of conduct that accepted globally. We are better ff getting our news from ordinary people tweeting whatthey are witnessing.

April 23, 2011 at 4:33 AM  

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