We’ve all heard the the stories of reporters being fired for a tweet or facing harsh criticism for an unedited Facebook post. But what is new, however, is the response of one the biggest media entities –the The New York Times– to a recent social-media debacle.
Last week, while in Gaza reporting on the recent Israeli air attack, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren, posted her opinion of the attack on Facebook. She said that the Palestinians in Gaza seemed “ho-hum” about the widespread death and destruction around them. She also communicated with a Palestinian activist over Twitter, which critics argue shows that Rudoren “favors one narrative of the conflict over the others.” Because of this “problematic” social media activity, the Times decided that a “social media editor” needed to step in.
According to Times public editor — Margaret Sullivan — Rudoren has now been assigned an editor to work closely with her on her social media posts. The reason for this, Sullivan writes, is to “capitalize on the promise of social media’s engagement with readers while not exposing The Times to a reporter’s unfiltered and unedited thoughts.”
Without doubt, navigating the landscape of social media is not an easy task — especially when you are in the middle of a war zone. So far, the proposed solutions to this problem are: don’t use social media at all, tweet or share your work but don’t engage in dialogues, and only distribute what has been preapproved for you to share online, aka get an editor.
Just because Ruderen is a reporter whose professional work is subject to edits on a daily basis, does this mean that her personal thoughts, as published via social media, need to be edited as well? Sure, sometimes people say things they probably shouldn’t have but the utterance of a dumb thing every now and then doesn’t disqualify anybody from being a good reporter.
Yet Sullivan argues that Rudoren is “not especially attuned to how casual comments may be received in a highly politicized setting” and with Facebook and Twitter, “words go from nascent, half-formed thoughts to permanent pronouncements to the world at the touch of a key.”
But isn’t that precisely what defines social media publishing– its unfiltered-ness, the ability to say what you want compulsively and impulsively? Gizmodo’s Matthey Ingram argues that editing social media robs these platforms of their ultimate power:
Social-media tools like Twitter and Facebook get the vast majority of their power from the fact that they are what Margaret Sullivan seems to want to protect us from: namely, the unedited and unfiltered thoughts and opinions of a journalist. The more you edit them and try to filter out or smooth over all the bumps and blemishes, the more you rob them of that power — the power to connect human beings to other human beings as directly as possible.
We hail the “citizen reporter”as the best thing that could have happened to the field of journalism, but question whether the main streams of communication for such reporting need to establish objectivity. We’ve seen Reddit turn into a real-time news source during the Aurora shooting and Romney’s 47% gaffe. The Mother Jones video of the event was originally blasted for bias. It’s clear that objectivity is what lies at the crux of this issue. The Guardian writes: “The key overarching myth which establishment media outlets like to maintain about themselves” is that “their journalists are ‘objective’ and, therefore, expressing any subjective view or opinion is some sort of breach of journalistic propriety.”
Gigaom’s Ingam continues:
If anything, journalists who are not afraid to show their human side can actually be more effective, and National Public Radio editor Andy Carvin was a great example of that during the uprisings in Egypt and Libya. It’s also why I think it’s better in many cases for fact-checking to be done in public. Are some journalists going to say offensive or even stupid things? Of course they are. Everyone does. So should a single remark that someone makes on Twitter, or over an open microphone, disqualify them from ever being able to practice journalism
We have to decide what we want — information from social media sources, that may be “biased” and not “objective”, or news articles stamped with the NY Times seal of approval. Is this really a dichotomy? Perhaps the numbers speak for themselves considering the fact that social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have attracted audiences that exceed the Times’ by orders of magnitude. In order to remain relevant in the digital age, social media presence is a given and is now the norm for most, if not all, major news outlets.
The question is, does this online presence recquire intervention, regulation and editing? Will every journalist be assigned a social-media editor? What kind of impact will this have on allowing journalists to brand themselves and including citizens in the process of creating the news alongside them?
- NYT Jerusalem chief gets oversight (politico.com)
- Why the NYT is wrong to put a social-media muzzle on its journalists (gigaom.com)
- New York Times Israel Reporter Assigned Social Media Babysitter (nymag.com)