Social Media in the Newsroom: Handy or Problematic?

Social media is everywhere we look nowadays. Most of us have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress blogs, and god knows what else. It’s not shocking that this social media obsession has made it’s way into the way we work. Even though the younger generation is accustomed to these things and can’t imagine their lives without them, they still pose a problem. Social media is a new thing; we don’t have guidelines on how to use them professionally. Journalists need to follow a code of ethics, but if they’re using a Twitter, do they have to respect the same code? How do we know what we can or cannot say? That’s where things get blurry.

The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) actually has several points in their Ethics Guidelines about social media. One point states: “we encourage the use of social networks as it is one way to make connections, which is part of our core work as journalists. However, we keep in mind that any information gathered through online means must be confirmed, verified and properly sourced.” That’s a very important point to make. Social media, or social networks, are a great tool for journalists, especially aspiring ones. It opens you up to a whole different audience, and allows for you to interact with that audience. It helps to get fresh perspectives on things, too. And don’t forget how instantaneous it is: as soon as something happens in the world, somebody could Tweet about it or post it on their blog instantly. Social networks have revolutionized the way journalists cover major news events while they’re in progress. But again, the downside to that is, you don’t get verified news. You get answers quickly, but in turn, they may not be completely accurate.

As far as social media in the workplace, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a journalist or you work at McDonalds. The same workplace ethics should be in place. You shouldn’t be Tweeting out important information from a meeting, you shouldn’t add your boss if it’s not appropriate, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your employers to see, etc. At the Associate Press offices, news broke on Twitter about an AP staffer being arrested at a protest. The problem was, that was before AP’s news wire even got the information. Think before you Tweet. I can’t say the same for everybody, but those are things I learnt in high school. This generation has a tendency to put too much online, so it really doesn’t matter whether you’re a journalist or not. Any professional employee should use some discretion online.

When it comes to journalists who are supposed to remain impartial, sharing opinions online can get tricky. According to the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism, you should watch what you tweet. They say “whenever you start to write or share something, think about how whether it might cast doubt on your ability to do your job professionally and impartially.” Your words can be misconstrued, they can be used against you, and they can never be completely erased once they are online.

With all of that said, just because there are downsides to using social media, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it. We can’t be afraid of new mediums, we have to embrace them, but with caution. These tools can be a great thing, you just have to know how to use them right and remember that you’re a journalist. In case you forget, here are some guidelines from the American Society of News Editors:

  1. Traditional ethics rules still apply online.
  2. Assume everything you write online will become public.
  3. Use social media to engage with readers, but professionally.
  4. Break news on your website, not on Twitter.
  5. Beware of perceptions.
  6. Independently authenticate anything found on a social networking site.
  7. Always identify yourself as a journalist.
  8. Social networks are tools not toys.
  9. Be transparent and admit when you’re wrong online.
  10. Keep internal deliberations confidential.