Given recent updates to the L.A. Times social networking policy for journalists, I can’t help but ask whether or not social media really does threaten journalistic integrity.
Here are some of key points in the L.A. Times’ revised social networking policy to consider as outlined in a staff article in Editor & Publisher:
- If a reporter friends/fans an interest group on any social network, she must also become a friend/fan of an interest group with an opposing viewpoint.
- Becoming a friend/follower of a professional contact may reveal her as a potential source.
- Any transmission of information online including a retweet of a post on Twitter should be treated with the same caution and standards as anything that would go into the formal publication.
While I can’t say I’m totally shocked by this, I am definitely interested to see how policies like this impact profit margins in mainstream media over the next few years.
The problem for me lies in what a policy like this leaves out: what the journalists actually can do in social networks. According to this policy, journalists are a-okay to:
- Post links to his/her own work for the publication
- Avoid people
- Avoid conversation
The trouble with this equation lies in the fact that without conversation and passing along others’ information, the only reasonable thing left to do is to post links to your own work and chat with coworkers. Why bother?
I also can’t help but question the stark contrast between what many propose is the best way to build an online presence… tenets like be human, be genuine, be approachable, don’t use the channels as a one-way means to broadcast your stuff (links to articles, products, webinars, etc.).
This leaves the question of integrity.
I’m not a journalist, but I have a difficult time understanding how inclusivity, personal accessibility and engagement in genuine conversation with others poses a threat to journalistic integrity.
Kristine Lowe, on the other hand, is a journalist and she has some great thoughts on impartiality, consensus and PR related to journalists use of social media.
Kristine questions whether journalists’ tendencies to talk only amongst peers online exacerbates media’s herdlike behavior and points out that public interaction with PR folks is preferable to closed-door meetings. She expresses excitement over PR’s ability to get better acquainted with her work in social networks like Twitter in hopes of more targeted pitches to her inbox, and notes inherent opportunities in social media to engage and expand readership of the publication.
My thinking around this issue is that the older broadcast-type media channels are at a crossroads. Many are adapting rather well to social media, some are struggling to adapt, and others are refusing to compromise the institutional tenets of the past.
Which publications will come out winners as a result? Despite leanings one way or the other, the outcome is still anyone’s guess.
Should we expect journalists to behave differently online than other types of professionals? Do policies prohibiting personal interaction make sense for those responsible for delivering news? And, perhaps most important, does social networking threaten objectivity and integrity?
What about perceived objectivity and integrity? Could the L.A. Times have a point?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but I’m interested in learning what you think. In order to embrace social media, what are we really asking journalists and mainstream media to give up?
Photo by Frederic Poirot
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