Five Do’s and Dont’s for Journalists Using Social Media*
By Steve Fox, Multimedia Journalism Coordinator
Journalism Program, University of Massachusetts
#1: DON’T BE A DUMBASS. Seriously, use your head. You’re out there representing your news organization. Your actions have ramifications. Before you post a status update to Facebook or write a Tweet entry, ask yourself a simple question: Am I being a dumbass?
#2. LISTEN. If you’re tweeting a news event or an interview, Take time to listen and put off your tweet for a few minutes. How many of you are tweeting right now? Did you take the time to listen? Context remains important. If, back in the day I were to tweet a City Council meeting, I would have to make sure to listen to understand the issue and make sure there is context to what I’m writing.
#3. DON’T OVERSELL YOUR HEADLINES. This is increasingly a serious issue with journalists. In our hyper-competitive environment, we want people to click into our content but we are practicing journalism! Don’t mislead. I had oOne journalist I know who tweeted the week after Michael Jackson died that police were investigating the doctor as possibly having a role in a homicide. I clicked in and saw a one sentence entry on TMZ atributed to an anonymous source. Now his defense was that TMZ had been right on the story. But at the time it was way overselling the case and anyone who has ever covered cops knows they look at a lot of stuff during an investigation.
#4. PRIVACY. There is a semi-private nature to Facebook — so what do you do? I had one student who reported on a UMass student who committed suicide during a study abroad program. His first step was to go check out her FB page and he found a lot of condolence messages, which he reported on for a blog that he was writing for the local newspaper’s Website. The backlash was immediate. He was kept out of a memorial service for the girl because friends and family were upset with what he had done. We as journalists may see Facebook pages as publicly accessible, but for many users out there they live in this grey, semi-private area. It’s a tough balancing act but honoring privacy in some cases is worth consideration.
#5. RETWEETING. You are implicitly endorsing something when you retweet something. To think otherwise is just silly If you think it is “just interesting” and are passing it along, then let people know that. But if you have not checked out what you are retweeting, then don’t do it. You’re implicitly attaching your personal journalistic approval as well as that of your news organization when you retweet something.
FINALLY, there is a lot of debate over whether reporters and editors should be Facebooking and tweeting and how to do it – do you have separate personal and private pages? Is one page and account good enough?
It all really comes down to common sense and transparency. If you’re using one Facebook page for personal and professional use, let your sources and contacts know when you’re working on a story. But there is a strong argument for separating your personal and professional when using social media. It provides clarity for you as journalist as well as your sources and those you write about.
But, either way, don’t be a dumbass.
(*Originally presented on 10/3/2009 at ONA Conference in San Francisco)