June 3, 2022 — I was among those who welcomed the advent of social media because it represented the democratization of mass communication. I have since tempered my enthusiasm for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and related sites for several reasons, including the fact way too many people share way too much information online. I guess that’s the price of liberated global communications.
Chief among the people who share too much information online are journalists. I’m not talking about posts that highlight their latest journalistic work with hyperlinks to their employers’ websites. I’m not even talking about photos of their children or what they had ordered at their favorite restaurant. I’m talking about posts that expose their political beliefs and/or biases.
Being impartial is part of the job
For some reason, journalists feel free to express themselves on social media in ways they can’t and shouldn’t while on the job. Maybe it’s because there’s no editor or news director acting as a gatekeeper. Whatever the reason, these revealing posts damage their reputation for objectivity.
Some argue that no human being can be completely impartial. I agree. This doesn’t mean reporters and editors, however, can’t make a good-faith effort to set aside their personal beliefs. If society can ask judge to do this every day in the court room, certainly it’s no too much to ask journalists to do this every day in the newsroom … and on social media.
Boon for public relations pros
Selfishly, the fact reporters and editors reveal their biases online helps me and my clients. A quick review of a reporter’s social media feed can inform our decision whether to submit for an interview. If we detect an obvious bias against my client and their point of view, we might decline the interview opportunity in favor a more balanced journalist.
A quick review of a reporter’s social media feeds can also us prepare for certain questions. It can even help us to identify ways to relate to a reporter’s personal experiences, resulting in a more fruitful and engaging interview.
News executives like “likes”
News outlets share some of the blame for reporters who share too much information on social media. Though most will likely deny it, news managers look favorably upon reporters with large social media followings. Of course, the best way to grow your number of followers is to engage in opinionated conversations because social media algorithms reward this behavior.
Early in my journalism career I worked for an editor who threatened to fire reporters who spent too much time in the office. Why? He reasoned news wasn’t found in the newsroom. He said you had to get out of the office to meet people and develop relationships.
In today’s newsrooms ravaged by job cuts, the easiest way to learn what’s happening in a community … and still meet your quota for generating content … is to engage with others on social media. It makes perfect sense. It doesn’t make sense, however, for journalists to sacrifice their impartiality in the process.