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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, February 13, 2012

To Tweet or Not To Tweet?

Some media organizations are now restricting tweets coming from their employees. The problem is that tweets are being used to express personal opinions rather than just another platform for breaking news.

They can't have it both ways...or can they?

The traditional approach was for management to insist that employees "may not express personal opinions about matters of public concern." This was a bit of a fig leaf, designed to give management permission to engage in a form of prior restraint of their employees. I used it myself, on a number of occasions, simply as a way of warning highly opinionated journalists to cool it.
 
Drawing public attention to CNN, the CBC or the BBC is well and good, and news managers are delighted whenever we could get free (if second hand) publicity from their journalists' efforts. But twitter accounts are being set up by individual journalists who often see tweets as a means of bypassing management strictures. As I used to mention, journalists are the eunuchs in the harem: they have all the responsibilities and none of the pleasures.

The internet has changed much of that, and recent comments by certain journalists (Roland Martin and Octavia Nasr at CNN, Heather Mallick on CBC.ca, Michael Enright on CBC Radio, Krista Ericson at Sun Media among others) have appeared to cross a line which evokes strong public disapproval.

In the end, two things are important: first, the public understands the differences between fact-based reporting and a bit of bloviating. Media organizations obsessing about reputation tend to over-react, sometimes stifling free speech in the process.

If news operations maintain standards and inform their journalists about what can and can't be said, even "off campus" then the value of tweets as a better way to break news will emerge.

As my students told me today, they heard about Whitney Houston via tweets and facebook. They did not find out by reading a newspaper or catching a newscast.


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