The use of social media in journalism is more widespread than ever before. With this, comes great debate over the extent to which social media should be utilized by journalists, as well as discussion of the ethical issues that arise from having reporters using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other social media outlets. With the evolution of technology, a simultaneous evolution in news reporting is inevitable. The fact is, however, that news organizations are putting out policies and guidelines regarding the use of social media by their employees. Personally, the implementation of rules or direction by a company to their employees is absolutely necessary.
Most reporters are not discouraged from using social media. The Associated Press’ “Social Media Guidelines For AP Employees, Revised July 2012” clearly states that “all AP journalists are encouraged to have accounts on social networks.” Reuters’ Handbook of Journalism also states, “we want to encourage you to use social media approaches in your journalism” and immediately adds, “but we also need to make sure that you are fully aware of the risks — especially those that threaten our hard-earned reputation for independence and freedom from bias or our brand.” The fact of the matter is that journalists who work for a recognized news organization in the public eye are subject to scrutiny. It is the company’s way of ensuring their own reputation, as well as their reporters in the journalism community.
Another point to be made is the fact that the Internet is not a secure environment. It is difficult to know who is actually behind the screen using the social media. In a study on journalists and social media, a male private radio journalist, “CZ,” was quoted as saying, “Trustworthiness is the issue. I do not see the face of the person, I do not know if they are being sincere and honest.” The reliability of a 140-character twitter post or Facebook status update, for example, is questionable.
The protection of the journalists themselves is an issue, as seen in a number of company policies, as well as in the study conducted. The Wall Street Journal’s policy includes the point, “Don’t discuss articles that haven’t been published, meetings you’ve attended or plan to attend with staff or sources, or interviews that you’ve conducted.” Certain information is not meant for the public, and should therefore be kept off social media sites, because nothing is private once it is on the Internet. In the same study as mentioned above, a female private TV journalist, “UK,” states “people not distinguishing between social media and their personal life and day job…there definitely are dangers for journalists in that sense.” It is important to remain professional and respectful because anything published online, even if it is intended to be private, has the ability to become public.
Finally, according to an article on the Associated Press, entitled “AP tells staff not to scoop the wire on Twitter,” Twitter should not be used to announce a story in real-time before the news outlet gets a chance to put it out because “what good is a news wire if the information on it is old news?” From an economic standpoint, if a reporter is given the opportunity to send out a tweet before the credible news source which they represent sends it out to public, then there would be no reason to buy a newspaper or pay for any news.
Needless to say, Twitter and Facebook are excellent sources for connecting with people to write a story or find out information or a point of view, however attention must be paid in order to use social media effectively. With a “follow” or a friend request, a journalist should not put their objectivity in the newsroom at risk. While it does give the opportunity for journalists and reporters to connect with billions instantaneously, the implementation of guidelines is necessary. It is not a way of taking away personal freedom of journalists, but rather a way of ensuring the credibility and well-earned reputation of the news organization that they are representing, as well as their own. The New York Times’ associate managing editor for standards, Phil Corbett, summarizes this perfectly; “They need to realize that social media is basically a public activity, it’s not a private activity, and that people will know that they work for the Times, that they are Times journalists, and will identify them with the Times.” To conclude, a journalist must assume the responsibility of representing who they work for, and making use of the great research tool that is social media conscientiously.
AP.org; “Social Media Guidelines For AP Employees, Revised July 2012.” http://www.ap.org/Images/Social-Media-Guidelines-7-24-2012_tcm28-8378.pdf
Reuters.com; “Handbook of Journalism:Reporting from the Internet and Using Social Media.” http://handbook.reuters.com/index.php/Reporting_From_the_Internet_And_Using_Social_Media
Editorsweblog.org; “AP tells staff not to scoop the wire on Twitter.” http://www.editorsweblog.org/2011/11/18/ap-tells-staff-not-to-scoop-the-wire-on-twitter
Ec.europa.eu; “Journalists and Social Media.” http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/quali/journsm_en.pdf
Socialmedia.biz; “Social Media Policies.” http://socialmedia.biz/social-media-policies/
Poynter.org; “Why The New York Times eschews formal social media guidelines.” http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/180455/why-the-new-york-times-eschews-formal-social-media-guidelines-for-staff