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How much leeway should reporters have on social media?

Discussion in 'Online Journalism' started by Thomas Goldkamp, Apr 5, 2012.

  1. Reading the Peter King thread, I really began thinking about how much leeway reporters should have in their use of social media. I'll admit, my experience is very limited, and I work for an online company that sells subscriptions and encourages its writers to have opinions and be vocal about them most of the time.

    However, that goes against a lot of what I was taught in school. I understand the value of it in building a personal brand, but as a reporter it's sometimes tough to find the line of complete objectivity as a reporter and being open enough to voice an opinion.

    I guess there are a few questions I'm looking for feedback on.

    1) Should reporters ever voice opinion about the teams they cover through any medium? This includes off-hand comments, sarcasm, etc. I would never do it a hard news article, which leads me to question whether I should do it on social media.

    2) Is there or should there be a somewhat different standard for use of social media as a reporter when it comes to talking about the team you cover?

    3) If so, how much leeway is there for difference between hard news reporting? When is going away from the hard news standard too much?

    I know plenty of newspaper reporters that are very good at what they do that sometimes make sarcastic comments or subtle suggestions like King made about Vilma's situation. Is that blurring the line of objectivity? Has that line changed with the advent of social media? Was there ever a line in the first place?

    And yes, I know King is a columnist and not a reporter. For the sake of this thread, I'm talking about reporters.
  2. young-gun11

    young-gun11 Member

    In my situation currently, I always say, "Podunk wins 4-3 over Nowheresville. Great game by the Eagles." Or something like that. I don't give opinions on coaching mistakes, but I tend to "root" on my teams in my coverage area.

    On a bigger stage, I wouldn't put my opinion out there at all if I was covering a team. Say I'm the Arkansas beat writer. I'm not going to tweet, "Bobby Petrino really messed up. What an idiot."
  3. Is it downright wrong for a reporter to do that, though? Does one lose credibility or objectivity in the eye of the reader by doing so?
  4. Matt Stephens

    Matt Stephens Well-Known Member

    I'm the sports guy on our paper's social media committee. The basic rule we came up for Twitter posts is to not be stupid. That's literally what it says in our guidelines we developed.

    I think the great thing about Twitter is that it gives reporters personalities. They don't have to be mindless drones anymore like so many readers imagine them to be. I'm probably way too opinionated, but if it's something I cover — especially as a beat — I'm not going to opine on it. I'm not going to just post "Podunk High sucks. The coach needs to be fired now," even if I'm thinking it. However, I will talk about say things like "that was just stupid," when Player A throws a punch in a football game or "this sophomore has what it takes to be one of the best players in conference history when his career is done."
  5. Jake_Taylor

    Jake_Taylor Well-Known Member

    This was discussed in a thread a while back about the situation in Cleveland, but expressing an opinion certainly doesn't have to mean calling somebody an idiot.

    I have a bit of a problem with a beat writer posting "Bobby Petrino is an idiot." I don't necessarily have a problem with one posting "Bobby Petrino messed up and Arkansas did the right thing firing him."
  6. SharpTusk

    SharpTusk Member

    As a caveat, I am not a reporter but consider myself a fan, a writer and a blogger in that order, but, if you would, consider a few things despite my handicaps in this forum.

    I write for an Arkansas site, Hog Database, and we primarily use social media to promote our posts. Our facebook page has about 12,800 followers although for several months last year we provided content and admin for hogblog.org's facebook page which has 86,000+ followers. @hogdatabase has about 5,600 followers on Twitter while I have about 1,300 on twitter and 1,200 on facebook. I don't know our numbers for g+ or the new pinterest account.

    The last number that I'll bore you with is that I follow close to 2,000 accounts on twitter with several hundred being sports reporters and sports media.

    Whether sports writers should or shouldn't voice opinions, the norm in the twitter arena is that most do. When opinions are based upon logical extensions of facts, they stimulate discussion, or in more useful terms, the writer interacts with readers who appreciate the accessibility. From my perspective, the twitter line of @slmandel, Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, does this well. On the negative side, Tony Barnhart raised Razorback Fans' ire with some defensive and overly favorable comments regarding Houston Nutt a few months ago as he left Ole Miss. Barnhart made it worse when he defended himself to Arkansas Fans and by the latter part of the afternoon, he had so many people riled up that he finally capitulated. Mandel would not waste a day in that situation and would not have to do so.

    From another perspective, I have frequent contact with Matt Hayes (@matt_hayesSN) from SportingNews.com and some contact with Spencer Hall from Every Day Should Be Saturday. Both say that their interactions with people and information from them on Twitter contribute to ideas for their stories.

    Sarcasm needs to carry a #sarcasm hashtag. There are so many over-the-top opinions from attention-hounds that it is very difficult to distinguish sarcasm from seriousness without voice inflection or mannerisms.

    I would think that it is evident, but the distinctions with the Bobby Petrino comments above are ad hominem attacks vs. ones which are factually based. As a fan, I would skewer the former but leave alone the latter. I believe the safe rule is that Tweets should never (or very rarely) make the issue a personal one. That seems to be the professional line. -- Sharp Williams
    OakAsSocksGrl likes this.
  7. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    No. Never. Your job as a reporter covering a team is to cover it. Analysis is fine. Commentary or opinions, snarky or otherwise, are not OK.

    No. Journalism is journalism, whether practiced in a newspaper or on the Internet. You should always follow your ethical lessons.

    You seem to have left out a few key points, namely between hard news reporting and what? Opinion? If it is, then anytime you start delving into your own opinion rather than facts or analysis is crossing that line.

    Yes, it blurs the line. In my opinion, the line hasn't changed. The audience for when people do cross the line has changed.

    That is a crucial distinction. Peter King is paid to write his opinion. If you're a reporter, you're paid to report the facts. Peter King can get away with being snarky a lot more than a reporter can get away with being snarky.
    Doc Holliday likes this.
  8. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty New Member

    well, how in the world could you ever be a writer/blogger if you weren't first and foremost a fan?

    goooooo team!
    Doc Holliday and OakAsSocksGrl like this.
  9. Andrew Olson

    Andrew Olson New Member

    I cover UF. My twitter account would be at its most efficient if I just followed fellow UF reporters, national outlets and other accounts directly relevant to my job. I actually cover a lot of reporters that don't have much or anything to do with UF, a lot not even sports, but are simply interesting. I am only a casual NBA fan at best, but I follow one Miami Heat writer because he has a decent wit, and offers some interesting analysis that I doubt makes it into his articles. I similarly follow a U Tennessee beat reporter year around because of his humorous interactions with readers/listeners/other reporters.

    If you're not cheering the team you cover or a rival, and are not relentlessly negative without backing it up, I don't see how it's unprofessional. As dead tree journalism transitions to digital story telling, credentialed reporters are fighting for readers/followers/subscribers with bloggers and every other opinionated fan with a keyboard. There is an online brand that goes with your stories now, and you have to show some personality while maintaining professional obligations.
    OakAsSocksGrl likes this.
  10. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    I don't like guidelines like "don't be stupid" because basically it leaves you hung out to dry after the fact if somebody else decides something you did was "stupid."

    One rule of thumb I have heard is: you can certainly use stuff you WOULD not normally put in the paper (due to time, immediacy or space constraints) but never use something you COULD not put in the paper (i.e. libelous, obscene or blatantly compromising your impartiality).

    Because whatever you blast out on Twitter, Facebook, live chats or any other social media, somebody can archive somewhere and throw back at you.
    OakAsSocksGrl likes this.
  11. GabeD

    GabeD New Member

    This could very well be an age thing, but I'm of the belief that Twitter is where you show some personality and you interact with people. You let fans get to know you a bit on Twitter. Now, I work for a subscription based business where I have a vested interest in how many people subscribe. So if I can suck them in on Twitter getting them to think "This guy's funny" or "I agree with this guy a lot, he seems pretty smart" then maybe they'll sign up for my site and make me money.
  12. mediaguy

    mediaguy Well-Known Member

    This is a smart conversation to have, and it's a blurry line for most reporters. There's a level of snark and cynicism on Twitter you'd never have in the paper, but it's a different medium. It's not unlike being careful on a radio interview, when you're asked what you think about this or that and try to be interesting without crossing the lines you shouldn't cross. What's difficult is that it's far easier to know when someone's crossed the line -- to be safe, if you think it might be unprofessional to send something out, err on the side of silence.
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