Journalism 2.0: Social Media Ethics

This month I gave a talk called Journalism 2.0: Social Media Ethics at both the Iowa Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Newspaper Association conventions. (BTW, it was great to fly in to Green Bay Packer country only days after their Super Bowl win.)

The purpose of this talk was to help journalists better understand the following:

  • How to craft social media policy for their employees and teams.
  • How to balance their personal and professional social network identities.
  • How to use social media as a research tool.
  • How to maintain ethics and integrity while playing in the new media sandbox.

The latter point really sparked some debate up in Wisconsin, as real-time journalism was called into question – specifically NPR Senior Strategist Andy Carvin‘s curation and re-tweeting of #Egypt and #Jan25 Twitter posts. One audience member suggested that this was, in fact, not journalism. A paraphrased quote: “Journalists don’t ask the public is this happening? It’s up to us to report that.” Others in the room were vocal about the fact that Andy was simply doing his duty and providing a filter to all the noise.

Related to all of this is the “Line of Verification” concept created by Matthew Eltringham of the BBC, which I referenced in the presentation. Essentially, Matthew states that in the past, there was The Light Side (stuff that can be verified) and The Dark Side (stuff that can’t be verified and thus can’t be published). He argues that digital and social media networks have muddied up The Dark Side, and that some journalists need to start providing a filter for that uncharted area – which is what Andy Carvin is attempting to do on Twitter.

So what do you think? Can journalists play around on The Dark Side and still maintain their ethics, integrity and duty to the public? Is this a case of applying the rules of a traditional medium to a new one? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

Embedded below via Slideshare is my original presentation deck. I also wanted to quickly thank Twitter pal Bonnie Boglioli Randall for originally pointing me to Matthew Eltringham’s post.

Image credit: pagedooley via flickr.



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Posted in Blog, Conferences, Digital Media, Presentations, Social Media, Social Networks
6 comments on “Journalism 2.0: Social Media Ethics
  1. Anonymous says:

    The important thing is to clearly articulate to your audience what type of reporting you are doing. The front page and opinion page of a newspaper do very different things, but that’s made clear to readers.

    I’m bothered by the constant “breaking news” reporting on the cable channels – a handful of well coiffed talking heads SPECULATING about something as it’s actually happening. I don’t think they differentiate this AT ALL, and many people take the speculation as actual reporting. I often hear them regurgitating this bad information as I’m waiting in line for goods or services.

    Following a live event through Twitter posts is amazing, and curating by someone like @acarvin strikes me as a legit form of journalism… But a new form, and one that must be articulated to the audience so they understand this is raw information coming as it happens, not vetted and filtered through traditional reporting.

  2. Grant Rodgers says:

    I think the key when it comes to real-time news coverage, such as live tweeting, is to not get caught up in the “breaking news” adrenaline. When a fire broke out at a neighboring fraternity house last week, I tweeted live from the scene and made at least one mistake due to speculation and the feeling that it was important to “break” every detail. I certainly think that it is journalism, however, it needs to be done accurately with patience and discernment.

  3. Andy Carvin says:

    Interesting comment. If I’d been there I would have said that that’s precisely our job. We don’t make up the news; we ask our sources to give us the information we need to report. The big difference is that I’ve made that process transparent.

  4. Jeff Caldwell says:

    With “playing on the dark side” also comes the ability to be more transparent than ever before in what we consider “traditional” media. As long as reporters and editors acknowledge the HOW and WHO they’re employing in social media to help tell their stories, I see no ethical issues. It’s when journalists try to shroud those types of sources in the name of objectivity or “protected sources” that it could become messy. But, we shouldn’t be afraid to let “old journalism rules” get in the way of our ability to better tell a story with social media tools at our disposal. If the simple exercise of fact-finding and source attribution is tripping reporters up because it’s a source gleaned from Twitter or Facebook rather than a phone call or face-to-face interview, maybe it’s that reporter’s abilities that should be called into question, not the source of the information.

  5. Andy Carvin says:

    A lot of us have been debating whether what I’m doing is a new form of journalism or not. I’m torn, but generally I think it probably isn’t. If you picture a news anchor during a breaking news situation, they’re talking to their producers off-camera, getting fed wire copy, interviewing eyewitnesses, scrambling to find others, etc. I’m basically doing the same, except that it’s on Twitter, and I have no producers – it’s just me and people volunteering to help me follow the story. So it’s a twist on traditional jouranlistm, but I wouldn’t call it totally new.

  6. As someone who is a non-journo, I will readily admit I have a bad habit of “breaking news” and playing pseudo-reporter on SM. With the recent on and off-field stories with a local major university, we tend to read any “story”, whether it’s accurate or not, and treat it as legit news.

    My suggestion to journalists is to use your journalistic integrity in new media in the same way that you use it in traditional media.

    The reporters who have a strong following on social media are the ones who checks out the information on the dark side, contact reliable sources to confirm it, and if they are confident with what they have, with the support of their editor and paper, they can move the story into the “light side” for their readers to read it and be informed.

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