Journalists must recognize the dangers of tweeting opinions

In the minds of many top communicators, the US media has a bias problem.

In the minds of many top communicators, the US media has a bias problem. I'm not talking about political leanings, East Coast vs. West Coast, or fluffy advertiser stories. I mean reporters expressing individual, snarky opinions about the subjects and people they cover on Twitter.

In May, I had the pleasure of chatting with several top Inside the Beltway communicators in Washington. On most questions, they had disparate answers and insights. Yet when asked about the changing news media, they responded almost universally that they're still getting used to the concepts of "reporter as advocate" and "celebrity reporter."

As one communications pro put it, "We're not getting the fair shake we would have five years ago." Another described the process of picking reporters to work with as, "Wait a minute. I know you think A, B, C, and D. Why on Earth should I think you're going to write an objective story about one of my issues?"

Note well, reporters: the people you cover notice every word you tweet. At a previous reporting gig, my eyes bugged out after a communications pro accidentally sent me a research document she had compiled about me. I'm old school about when and how reporters should express their opinions, so I'm proud to say she didn't find much, except for some political observations and some very strong opinions on the performance of my favorite sports teams.

I'm not by any means suggesting that there should be a media industry standard for journalists' use of Twitter. After more than a century of print journalism, the industry has yet to come up with consistent standards for the use of "off-the-record" information or whether or not to reveal the identities of victims of crimes.

It's safe to say an accepted Twitter standard for journalists is a bridge too far. Twitter isn't going away - and when used correctly, its usefulness for breaking news, contact development, interaction with readers, and adding real-time context to stories is well documented. Any journalist who doesn't use a Twitter account to provide insight and information outside beyond the hard-news facts is missing a great opportunity, but it can also backfire.

The communicators are adjusting to this new normal by carefully choosing the reporters they'll work with or let in on the next scoop. It's up to the reporters to figure out this brave new world without it costing the next big story. l

Frank Washkuch is the news editor of PRWeek. He can be contacted at frank.washkuch@prweek.com.

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