Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Twitter: A Journalist's Helpful Friend or Accidental Foe?

Lily Bradley

Howard Rosenberg said it best in his 2002 article entitled A Journalist Breaks the Golden Rule. "Reporters are not hired to write columns or commentaries," says Rosenberg, "They report stories, which are meant to exclude opinions. Commentaries are written by columnists and labeled as opinion."

However in today's social media age, the line between reporting and commentating can be easily crossed... and more often then not, the line is crossed without the report even realizing it.

Social media was created on the basis of opinions. It was created as an outlet, a "safe haven" if you will, for the exchanging of different opinions. Yet as more and more consumers are turning to social media as their main source of news, reporters are being forced to keep their twitter "professional" and keep their opinions to themselves.

Take for example BuzzFeed news editor, Rachel Zarrell.

On July 23, 2015, a man opened fire in a Louisiana movie theatre, killing two people and wounding nine others before eventually taking his own life.

Within minutes of the news breaking, Twitter was flooded with tweets of sympathy, opinions, and even outrage. One such tweet came from BuzzFeed news editor, Rachel Zarrell.

image via politicalillusionsexposed.com 

It seems like an innocent tweet, right? Maybe for some... but not if you're the news editor of the unbiased media giant BuzzFeed.

Zarrell's tweet outraged her twitter followers, including conservative activist Stephen Miller. 

image via twitter.com

Miller referenced BuzzFeed's ethical standards, which prohibits editorial news staffers from voicing opinions on candidates and policy issues. It's clear to see that Zarrell overstepped her boundaries as an unbiased reporter. In fact, she quickly realized her mistake as well, issuing an apology soon after.

In times of grief or distress, one can daily make a mistake. However as journalist, mistakes come with a hefty price. Regardless of if the boundary is purposely overstepped or not, ethically credited journalists can't temporarily forget everything they learned in their media ethics class (no matter how long ago that was) in the heat of the moment. 

Once a reporter crosses that thin line, it can be hard to get back. Not only does the reporter put herself in danger, she jeopardized the credibility of her employer as well. It tends to be a slippery slope. 

This example brings to light one of journalism's core values: independence, and one must avoid conflicts of interest and influencing others to truly be independent. 

Accidents can happen. There's no doubt about that. It's important that one learns from his or her mistakes and in moving forward, vows to never let it happen again. Zarrell took full responsibility for her actions and for that I applaud her. 

As journalist, we must always be cautious in how we approach every day life. Our job requires we work in the public eye. Public scrutiny comes as part of the business. However within that spotlight, we must constantly remember that our opinions aren't the stories. 

No comments:

Post a Comment