There’s no questioning that Twitter has changed over the past few years. It’s not as much fun as it used to be, and it can be a potential minefield for professionals who need it for their work. Poynter has a great article, Twitter dustups are a reminder: Journalists, you are what you tweet, that’s worth a read.
Here’s the takeaway advice for young journos:
- Think before you tweet, as Reddy says. Consider whether you’d write those same words in a story with your byline over it or utter them on television or radio for the whole world to hear. Can you stand behind the statement and the facts supporting you if challenged?
- Realize that you’re not just talking to friends at a bar. Everything you write on Twitter is public and will live on (and potentially haunt you) in internet archives and screenshots.
- Corollary to the above: Remember that Twitter is intoxicating and dangerous, like driving drunk. Also… don’t drunk-tweet.
- Consider your role: If you’re a reporter and not a columnist, your bosses may expect you to keep opinions to yourself because they inevitably reflect on your newsroom.
- Be confident you can support your comments with reporting and facts. That’s good advice for columnists and editorial writers too — though as Robert Schlesinger, managing editor for US News’ opinions points out, for editorial writers and columnists, “bias is a feature, not a bug.”
- Understand the policies of the organization you work for, says Joy Mayer, an audience engagement specialist and adjunct faculty at Poynter who teaches an online course on social media. Some newsrooms expect social media to be all about business; others expect staffers to be human beings on social media and don’t mind journalists engaging on hot-button issues if it’s consistent with their personalities, Mayer said. If you aren’t sure, ask your managers.
- If you’re feeling angry or emotional, take a deep breath and pause before you tweet anything. The world won’t end if your take isn’t instantaneous.
- Don’t fight with trolls. It’s unproductive and often makes a bad situation worse. It’s fine to engage with sincere readers and critics, but keep it civil.
- If you mess up, have a plan, said Mayer: “Your organization might have a policy for handling social media corrections or missteps.” She recommends deleting a post “only if continued harm will come from leaving it up. Transparency is the better default course… Reply to a tweet with an apology, explanation or correction.”
- NPR’s Standards Editor Mark Memmott told me his network’s policy is to screenshot an offending post before deleting it, and to attach it to a correction or apology. The idea is to be accountable and transparent that a mistake was made, but not magnify the harm by letting it be retweeted.
- Last but not least, remember that Twitter can become an addiction, sucking valuable time away from other parts of our jobs and lives.