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.
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Are Bloggers Journalists? A Guide for Journalism Students

As journalism students in the 21st century, ‘blogging’ seems to be a given. We’re expected to know the basics of the internet-based “web logs” in today’s word of ever-changing of technology. Young journalists like myself aren’t phased by it. Being part of the digital generation, anything that involves the internet is a piece of cake for most of us. But in today’s world of journalism, with the internet’s endless stream of blogs, we have to start to think critically about this. Are bloggers considered journalists? Is a blog a valuable resource? After a quick Internet search, there seems to be some mixed opinions on the matter. 

Blogger Chris Pirillo states on his blog that he doesn’t necessarily believe that bloggers should be considered journalists. He states that “bloggers tend to write what they know, think and feel. Journalists are supposed to give facts, and unfortunately don’t always get them correct”. Throughout the comments on this post, most people agree that blogging is not journalism. However, it is important to mention that this post is over 5 years old. I think it’s interesting though, because do we still think like that? In today’s society, where well-known publications such as The New York Times feature blogs on their websites, how can we write off blogging so quickly? 

Journalism is a tricky business. It can be a hard one to break into, and sometimes, no prior journalism training is needed. What is needed? Experience. That is why blogging is so important for journalism students; it allows us to write. We can use our blogs to write about whatever we’re not able to write about at school or in our school newspapers. Montreal-based blogger Steve Faguy, who happens to be a graduate of Concordia’s journalism program, stresses the importance of getting proper experience in the field. In a blog post about today’s journalism students lacking enthusiasm for the field, he states “[…]when I talk to journalism students, I implore them to start doing journalism, to start covering stories that aren’t being covered. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a blog or a university paper or the New York Times magazine”. As a working journalist, he knows that it can be difficult to get work once you’re out of school. 

Besides the fact that blogging is a great way to get writing experience, it’s also a way to gain an audience. Sue Greenwood of Staffordshire University, who teaches a class on blogging for journalism students, teaches her students more than just journalistic writing. She teaches them how to write what people want to read and how to attract people to their website. It’s more than just writing skills, it’s about how to use the right words to draw people in through web searches, for example. For people in the industry, knowing the exact audience isn’t quite as important, but, as she states, “that’s what effective bloggers do”. 

Even though many of us can see why, in today’s society, blogging is an important task, some bloggers still don’t see it as being a reputable form of journalism. As it was simply put on the blog The Anti-Social Media: “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a blogger’s perspective and opinions. Just don’t forget they’re not out for factual accuracy and have an agenda to fulfill”. Although I agree that maybe some bloggers are merely people talking about what annoys them and are not reputable sources, it’s not fair to completely disregard the medium completely. 

Speaking as a student and aspiring journalist, I’ve found that blogging is a great way to practice my writing, but also to express myself. If you’re thinking of starting your own blog, there are some things you should know:

Journalism 101:
Since many bloggers are known to share their opinions while completely disregarding any form of impartiality, it’s important to know the basics of journalism if you plan to run your blog professionally.

6 Things To Consider: 
Similarly, this is another resource for up and coming bloggers who wish to stick to the journalistic integrity. It gives tips on how to make your blog “seem more professional and reliable”.

New York Times Blog Directory:
Lastly, I though I would include a list well-done blogs as a point of reference. This list of reputable, New York Times affiliated blogs just goes to show that it can indeed be a form of journalism, not just a place for people to vent.