As a journalist these days you’re constantly dealing with the conundrum of ethics while reporting. The proliferation of social media has added a new dimension to journalism.
So, here are some tips to remain sane in the world of 140-characters:
- Was @richardsmith sacked for poor performance? Don’t ask such questions on Twitter that have a slant or amount to spreading rumors.
- Don’t tweet about a story you’re still working on.
- After a story is published don’t tweet portions of your story that were removed during edits. So what if you think they should be told on social media.
- Be careful about offering opinions. I love Pizza Hut but Domino’s is not bad either.
- Don’t retweet or share information that you are not very sure about.
- Don’t delete a tweet. Use your next tweet for the correction.
- Always identify your name, profession and organization clearly in Twitter. Don’t think that by caveating your bio with a “tweets are personal” you will be the only one impacted for a libelous tweet. You are part of an organization.
…and some general guidelines to follow while working on your stories:
- No quid pro quo. Never call a public relations person and say you are going to write a flattering piece and that the CEO should give you an interview.
- Don’t inadvertently drag any person or company into a story about wrongdoing. For example, don’t publish a photo of someone being taken to jail that has a logo of Monsanto in the background.
- Don’t use words like “off the record.” People don’t understand our lingo all the time. Say, “I will not use your name.”
- People you are writing about should not be surprised when they open the paper or a website and read about your accusations. They should be given an opportunity to explain their stand, with explicit allegations sent to them with enough time to respond.
- How much of the official comments should you use? The most relevant part that is needed to explain their stand.
- Don’t make calls for comments a check-the-box exercise. Try multiple ways to reach the person, particularly when you may be challenging their reputation. In any lawsuit one of the key things courts notice is whether you were diligent enough.
- When you get denial on a story you are writing , go back and double check your work thoroughly. Again, the lawsuit will turn on you to determine whether you did enough. Keep your notes intact for a year at least.
- Don’t let sources buy you expensive items or lunches. If someone buys you lunch, and you find it difficult to say no because of your culture, buy him or her lunch on your expense within the next three months.
- As a food reporter, if someone sends you scotch bottles at the office as samples, how do you judge whether to take them or not? Can you drink them in one go? If you cannot, it means the bottles are too big (and so not really a sample) and it’s time to arrange for a return.