A useful account of Twitter and tweeting journalists

My Australian colleague Julie Posetti at the University of Canberra has written a good piece in The Walkley Magazine about how journalists are, should and might make use of Twitter as a tool.

Why journalism’s all a-Twitter, Walkley Magazine Oct 2009

Julie’s piece highlights some of the professional and ethical issues that arise when Twitter enters the newsroom, but I agree with her that attempts to stop journalists from using Twitter is over-kill.

It raises a difficult issue though: when using social media, where is the line between a professional and a personal persona?

This has, to some extent been an issue in journalism for two hundred years – the separation of “objective” reporting from opinion.

But that long-standing Chinese wall breaks down in the age of social media – another digital dialectic. I wrote recently about how the New York Times code for engagement with social media attempts to keep this barrier in-place.

How can a reporter separate that side of themselves out from their personal life? It is a denial of what social media is all about, though as Julie points out, it highlights a range of contradictions:

But reporters’ use of the platform to express feelings and opinions on a range of issues has raised red flags about professional conduct and bias, although – paradoxically – it can humanise journalists to their audiences, potentially making their work more appealing.

Julie also considers the Twittering from Iran issues that came up earlier this year – the circulation of unverified information, particularly by journalists who re-tweeted material from their own accounts implying it had an editorial imprimatur:

I’m of the view that professional journalists will be judged more harshly if they RT content which later proves to be false – particularly in the context of a crisis. This goes to their professional credibility and their employer’s. Therefore, while I wouldn’t suggest journalists step back from reporting on social media contributions flowing from zones like Iran, I do think they need to critically assess information to the best of their capacity before republishing it and, if there’s no way to do so, flag this with “unconfirmed” or some other abbreviated signal (e.g. U/C) that the information has not been substantiated by the journalist. The issues at stake here partly evolve from Twitter’s speed imperative, which encourages us to “file” instantly, sometimes without enough thought for the public nature of the platform. It’s very easy to get “Twitter-happy” and post without fear of the consequences.

Finally, a useful quick reference guide:

Top 20 takeaway tips for tweeting journos

  1. Think before you tweet – you can’t delete an indiscreet tweet!
  2. Think carefully about what you’re RTing and acknowledge if it’s unsubstantiated.
  3. Be an active twit: tweet daily if you want your followers to stick.
  4. Determine your Twitter identity.
  5. Be human; be honest; be open; be active.
  6. Don’t lock your account if you want to use Twitter for reporting purposes – this fosters distrust.
  7. Twitter is a community, not a one-way conversation or broadcast channel – actively engage.
  8. Check whether your employer has a social media policy.
  9. Be cautious when tweeting about your employer/workplace/colleagues.
  10. Be a judicious follower – don’t be stingy, but avoid following everyone as your list grows.
  11. If you quote a tweet, attribute it.
  12. Expect your competitors to steal your leads if you tweet about them.
  13. Don’t tweet while angry or drunk.
  14. Avoid racist, sexist, bigoted and otherwise offensive tweets and never abuse a follower.
  15. Scrutinise crowd-sourced stories closely.
  16. Find people to follow and foster followers by pilfering the lists of other “twits”.
  17. Twitter is a “time vampire” (to quote twit @anne_brand). You don’t need to keep track of all tweets – dip in and out through the day.
  18. Prevent information overload by using an application such as Tweetdeck.
  19. Set up your internet-enabled mobile device so you can live-tweet on the road
  20. Value-add your tweets with links, Twitpic and other applications for audio and video.

Julie Posetti is an award-winning former ABC journalist and Walkley finalist who lectures in journalism at the University of Canberra. She blogs at www.j-scribe.com and can be found on Twitter as @julie_posetti

One Response to A useful account of Twitter and tweeting journalists

  1. newswithnipples says:

    My feeling is that Twitter is overused by journos at the moment. I can see that in the case of natural disasters where we don’t have a journo, it’s very useful, but just plugging your own stories is rude. And I seem to be the only person in my newsroom who urges caution when reporting on things being said on Twitter. A few weeks back my editor said ‘quick, write a story for breaking news based on this Twitter topic’ without noticing that it was just one tweet being retweeted. I spoke to several of the retweeters and none could verify the truth of the original. So if I’d done it I’d look like a right goose.

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