Our class was visited by NPR’s Richard Harris today. What followed was a fascinating look at what makes radio different from print, and some inside looks at how NPR does such great science reporting for radio.
But that’s the subject of a whole different post.
Towards the end of his talk, I was struck by his response to a question about social media. I thought it brought home some of the issues that we as journalists need to be aware of.
As journalists we’re expected to maintain a fair and balanced approach to reporting.
In most cases that means we need to be careful expressing opinions in public, lest it undermine our credibility. (Op-eds are a different matter, but I’m talking about regular news reporting).
It used to be harder for people to find out what your private opinions were. But with social media, the line between public and private can get fuzzy. You really need to be aware of what information is public on social media.
One of our textbooks, Tim Harrower’s “Inside Reporting”, has some guidelines that I found interesting, and hadn’t thought about before.
For example, as a journalist you need to think about what you ‘Like’ on Facebook, regardless of whether it’s a friend’s strong opinion, or some political party’s Facebook page.
One of the guidelines was to ‘Like’ the Facebook pages of parties on both sides of the spectrum. Or you could explicitly state on the page that you ‘Liked’ a particular party only because you were a reporter wanting to get their latest news updates, not because you supported them.
(This is nothing knew, it’s just the medium that’s different. The textbook also states that sports reporters shouldn’t cheer a team they’re covering, and certainly shouldn’t wear team colors and apparel. If that’s the case, I think I’d make a terrible sports reporter.)
When tweeting too, it’s just something to think about. Tweets are a part of the public record (and in fact, they’re archived by the Library of Congress.)
Harris also pointed out that it can be hard to get a lot of followers in social media without expressing personal opinions. He said he just preferred to stay away from it. Especially since NPR had fired people for injudicious tweets, he said.
That’s not to say I don’t know a lot of journalists on Twitter and Facebook, but this was one aspect of social media and journalism that I hadn’t really thought about, and I thought it was worth pointing out.
What do people think about this line between private and public, and how much opinion we can safely express in social media without undermining our credibility as reporters?