So, I thought I knew all there was to know about social networking. But alas, I do not! Here’s a link to a website that was created to explain Twitter, one of the big, bad wolves of the social-network-verse (play on “universe”. I’m bad at this.) I’m definitely an advocate for the use of social networking in journalism, because without it, our profession would fall behind. That’s just not a question. As we learned in class the other day, a Pew report stated that 13 percent of adults use Twitter now. Because of this increasing use of social networking, I think that embracing the technology is more than necessary to push journalism into the future.
But, the role of the journalist, as we talked about it class, is more muddled when it comes to Twitter and other social media networks. I would like to stand on the side of an all-encompassing profile for a journalist to maintain transparency. “Perceived similarity” is good for journalists: who we are in the newsroom should, essentially, be who we are online. What I mean by this is that I don’t think journalists should have separate accounts or censor certain things from other people. I understand that we are people, too. We have individual rights and the ability to write about whatever inane thing we’d like to, but let’s be real. When we choose to be journalists, we choose to put ourselves into the spotlight of equal parts public criticism, public respect. We have a devotion to the people. While we’re not necessarily public officials, we do represent the people, and moreover, the information that these people might not be able to access otherwise. We get mad when a celebrity tweets something racist or homophobic, or when an athlete cheats on his wife, so why can’t people get mad when journalists portray a jeopardizing opinion?
I’m not saying journalists can’t have opinions. Saying that is a futile gesture, because humanity is riddled with opinions. Our biases, our experiences, our passions, our disdain—it all factors into what we do in life. And in a journalist’s life, our work just happens to reveal the clashing armies of accuracy and of personal interpretation. If it’s already hard for us to distinguish to our readers how we manage to maintain objectivity in our reporting, then why make it harder on ourselves and ruin our image online? I think it’s a matter of laziness. Do you really need to post that snide comment about Rick Santorum’s latest innuendo misstep on Twitter? I will admit, I have failed and let loose some personal opinions online that I have immediately regretted. But I try as hard as I can to avoid doing so. It’s hard to constantly censor yourself, and sometimes I feel like it’s not worth it. But it’s the moral effort of doing so that I think makes maintaining your professionalism online worth it. If you don’t want your mom to see it online, why would you want your readers to?
In any sense, I believe Twitter and social media is a fantastic tool for journalists. But I do have some qualms with it.
It seems to me like journalists have a bad bandwagon complex, jumping on the newest technology like it’s the callback you’ve been waiting for three hours (exhibit A: Google+). I hope that journalism embraces Twitter, but it’s the gimmick-y nature of social media that makes me shift around a little bit on my opinion. It’s great to use online resources, but there’s also a line. And I’m not exactly sure where that line is. I guess what I’m really addressing is the breaking news mentality of Twitter. It’s already hard enough for journalists to get content out fast enough that is still accurate, but when Twitter comes into the picture, that focus on accuracy seems to shift to the back burner. I think Twitter is wonderful, but it’s also dangerous. We need to embrace the changing face of journalism, but we also need to stay rooted in the tradition of the profession. Maybe long-form may be going by the wayside eventually, but I don’t think we should totally compromise our format of presenting news to the public just to keep up with the trend.
We’re a trend-following profession, but that doesn’t mean we have to be conformist.
Moreover, there’s the issue of citizen journalism. As journalists, bloggers and citizens intertwine online more than they ever have before, the definition of journalism is changing. What is a journalist now? We’ve talked about this in class, in the newsroom, and I’m sure it’s a dead-horse topic that no one can really make an answer to. We’ve got to be careful how we transform ourselves. Again, it’s great to embrace everything that’s happening in these new technologies, but as we begin to change, we need to keep our eyes open to not only the benefit of such technologies, but also the shortfalls. I think a critical furrow of the brow, which journalists are so good at conducting, is appropriate in the topic of social media and journalism.