OLD Media Moves

Twitter and the business journalist

September 3, 2012

Posted by KBlessing

Ever since Twitter came to the forefront as an important tool for the media industry, journalists have been grappling with how best to strike a balance between the personal and professional when using social media.

When reporting stories, it is expected that journalists present an unbiased account of events, backed by facts and quotes from sources. Yet because Twitter is often used as outlet to showcase a person’s personality and opinions, it can quickly point to the fact that a reporter isn’t actually dispassionate about the subject.

On the other hand, nobody wants to follow someone who only regurgitates headlines. Twitter is meant to be a social network and microblogging service where people can voice their opinions about events and add meaningful dialogue to conversations.

So how should a journalist best leverage Twitter as a tool to have both a personal voice and professional persona?

It’s an ongoing topic of discussion in newsrooms around the country, and something that journalists need to continually be mindful of, whether it’s 11 a.m. at work on a Tuesday or 11 p.m. on a Saturday when a journalist is out with his or her friends.

Keeping Opinions to Yourself

This past summer during my internship training at Bloomberg News, a session was dedicated to teaching the interns on how best to use social media as a journalist.

One of the social media editors reminded the interns that journalists cannot tweet opinionated views about the companies and events they were going to cover – and also pointed out that they could be assigned to a different beat in the future.

While I had previously known that I needed to be smart about what to tweet and not tweet as a reporter – and in general – this served as a bit of a wake-up call.

Multiple journalists have gotten into trouble over what they’ve posted on Twitter, and, for some, their comments cost them their job.

In June, Politico suspended one of its White House reporters for making numerous comments about Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  In 2010, a senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs at CNN was fired for praising Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Shiite cleric in Lebanon, after his death.

During the summer, I covered consumer and entertainment companies, which covers a breadth of topics that I had previously tweeted about. I could no longer tweet about whether I loved or hated a movie since I wrote box-office sales stories and often covered parent companies of many film studios.

Throughout the summer, I found myself more mindful of the potential repercussions that a tweet could have for my career as a reporter. By looking at who viewed my LinkedIn profile, I could see that public relations staffers for companies would frequently look at my profile after I’d called and left a message or sent an e-mail to them.

With the power of the Internet, I wouldn’t be surprised if PR people also skimmed through my tweets before responding to me as well.  A public relations staffer would most likely be less inclined to work with a reporter who they know already has a certain opinion about a company or certain political views.

That, in turn, could affect a journalist’s ability to break a story or get access to top executives at a company they cover.  It could also affect the way readers interpret stories written by a certain reporter and could compromise the perceived objectiveness of his or her reporting.

Personal vs. Work Tweets

Earlier this summer, Beet TV interviewed Liz Heron, the Wall Street Journal’s director of social media, about how to balance the percentage of personal tweets versus work tweets.

In the interview, Heron pointed out that journalists also have to remember why people are following them on Twitter.

“It’s OK to have a little bit of a human voice once in awhile. In fact, I think it adds a lot to your persona as a journalist to open yourself up a little bit,” Heron said.

“But we all have to remember why people are probably following us and it’s most likely for what we’re covering and what kind of information and added value that we can give them.”

So even while journalists may be successfully shying away from tweeting opinionated statements about their beats, they also need to be mindful of the amount of personal tweets they send.

Posting too many personal tweets, especially ones with controversial opinions, could isolate potential readers.  Even while journalists often write in their profile description that “retweets don’t equal endorsements” or that all opinions expressed are their own, media consumers don’t often differentiate between the journalist and the organization he or she represents.

When used properly, Twitter can serve as handy tool for journalists to share their knowledge and to get feedback from their readers.  They can add context to stories that they are writing and tweeting, and help draw potential followers to their news organization by the additional insight that they can provide.

Journalists need to remain cognizant of the power of Twitter and learn how and when 140 characters will either boost or ruin their careers.

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