Friday, October 22, 2010

Journalism And Twitter: Social Media Points To Ponder

Posted by Amanda Walsh

This article piqued my interest as it relates to journalism, Twitter and why it is important for organizations, including newspapers, to have a standard of use social media policy in place.

A recent Washington Post online guest article by Tony Perkins called “Christian compassion requires the truth about harms of homosexuality” sparked some Twitter commentary from The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD). According to Mashable, a Post staffer responded to GLAAD using the Washington Post Twitter account to defend that article as giving a platform to “both sides” of the debate. GLAAD responded with "there are no two sides to teenage suicide”.

Afterward, Washington Post Managing Editor Raju Narisetti, perhaps in an effort to do some damage control, issued a company-wide memo stating that the tweet should not have been sent. Although the Post “encourage(s) everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post branded account is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user generated content and increase audience engagement with Post content.”

My initial thought about this situation is that it could have been avoided had the Post had a social media policy in place that more clearly defined what the branded Washington Post Twitter account should and shouldn’t be used for. In this case, I think it would have been helpful to urge journalists to seek approval BEFORE posting something that could be seen as controversial or offensive. Even if the staffer had responded on his/her personal Twitter account, he or she still would have been seen as representing the newspaper.

The Mashable article did bring up a good point however, after this incident, and the way in which the Post’s responsed to it, future journalists may be hesitant to engage with readers on Twitter or on other social media platforms at all. I don’t think that should be the answer either. Instead, this situation reminds all of us, including journalists, that when using Twitter and/or any social media platform it is important to know why you’re using it and who your audience is. Once those objectives are clear, the social media policy is in place, and journalists have professional ethics in mind, there is an opportunity for journalists to create dialogue around the news and what is going on now.

Thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, people are now engaging in citizen journalism, communicating directly with the likes of @SenJohnMcCain, @AndersonCooper, @NYTimes and more. News is becoming gradually more social. People expect a response and increasingly they’re getting one from brands, newspapers, celebrities and politicians. Putting a gag order on reporters isn’t the answer, setting parameters for responses is.

As is the case with much of our communications in the 21st century, when you press the send button, the message is out there. That is why the utmost care and thought needs to be put into every form of communication from Twitter to e-mail. In an instance our message can reach thousands or millions across the world.

To read more about the memo, the Washington Post article and the Twitter responses, please read the Mashable article.

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