Week 9 Blog

Write 200-300 words discussing what rules govern a reporter’s use of good material discovered on a social media website. Should you “Friend” a source to get additional information from them and if so, to what degree should you use the information? Are there guidelines about a reporter’s relationship with online sources? Also, look at this from the editor’s point of view. Are there rules of the road on publishing material obtained from social media, and if so, give examples.

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Adjunct Professor of Media Ethics in Contemporary Society at Utica College

4 thoughts on “Week 9 Blog”

  1. In my opinion, I do not think reporters should “friend” a source on Facebook or other social media to obtain sources and/or additional information. While these platforms may be helpful in providing more access to information and sources, I don’t think it is professional to use these channels.

    An article from the American Press Institute by Natalie Jomini Stroud details a 2016 study that was conducted to see if perceptions of a news story credibility would fluctuate depending on where journalists obtained their information from. The study found that readers/participants believed that stories were “less credible” if they contained information that came from social media. “Credibility perceptions” were higher for stories that provided information from more traditional avenues, such as in person interviews, press conferences, emails and phone calls. Meanwhile, the “credibility perceptions” were lowest when information was obtained from social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook.

    I thought this article was very interesting and leads me to adhere to my original opinion that journalists should stick to more traditional ways of obtaining information and reaching out to sources. In addition, I think that “friending” someone on social media to get information is unethical because it provides more of an opportunity for journalists to not be upfront and honest with sources because they may be less inclined to ask permission to use the information. From an editor’s perspective, I think the use of social media to obtain information and sources makes it more difficult for them to vet the story’s content.



    1. Hi Kaitlyn, I think it’s important for you to stick to your beliefs and you have good reason for choosing not to utilize social media to gather information. But that said, as I read your post, I thought back to some of the “decisions” I made back during my media ethics class of how I planned to conduct myself and how I was forced out or at least made to reconsider some of my previous conclusions. Just know in the future, you may be placed within certain perimeters or placed under editorial and/or deadline pressures that my force you to utilize social media if you exhaust other means of information gathering. I agree, I never quote from a social media site, although depending on the case, I have asked if we could use certain materials or photos. But I’ve always established a professional relationship first, in other words, I may have used social media to find a source, but I’ve used more traditional methods to reach out to them and made sure I identified who I was. Even the “friends” I have written about previously, I would never just grab comments from their feed. I would say, I saw on Facebook you made comments on such and such…Would you be willing to give me a statement or is it OK to republish those comments? That way it takes out the factor that I’m violating someone’s privacy.


  2. Overall, I think social media is a positive tool for journalists to gather information and interact with readers/subscribers and sources. However, it does have its downfalls and requires responsible personal and professional use.

    In regard to connecting through social media, I think it is completely acceptable to follow and friend sources in order to communicate with them and get additional information. I would absolutely friend/follow a source if it was beneficial to a story. For better or worse, social media, especially Twitter, has given a platform for users from all walks of life to exchange ideas. These platforms have clearly been abused to varying degrees over the years as anyone can say anything and appear to be someone else online. Considering all of this, I think it is important to treat sources from social media like any other — verify and confirm everything before you publish. If I found information related to a politician that was posted on Twitter, for example, I would not quote that source in an article and call it a day. However, I would consider that information and look into it because I do think that strategies like crowdsourcing can be great tools for finding stories.

    Whether it’s Associated Press or ESPN, most mainstream news organizations have their own regularly updated social media guidelines for employees. For example, AP’s were updated in 2013 and give suggestions for their reporters on everything from creating social media accounts to retweeting. Regarding friending/following sources, AP’s guidelines say the following: “It is acceptable to extend and accept Facebook friend requests from sources, politicians and newsmakers if necessary for reporting purposes, and to follow them on Twitter” (AP, 2013). At the same time, the guidelines advise to follow sources from “both sides of controversial issues” in order to maintain a perception of objectivity with readers.

    AP’s guidelines also advise reporters on sourcing social media content. While AP does not discourage social media use in finding sources, the outlet says each one must be vetted, like any other source, and explicitly warns against lifting quotes and just attributing them to the name on a profile (AP, 2013). While they may vary by organization, established guidelines like the AP’s offer “rules to the road” as social media use continues to grow and develop.


    1. Mr. Northrup, you point out something very interesting: “…as social media use continues to grow and develop.” That tells us that even as professionals, we must keep abreast of the ever-changing world, just as some AP Style rules change over time and even communication law. What I’m trying to say is, what you’re learning today is not written in stone and it will be your responsibility to be a “continuous learner” and to maintain a current knowledge of those “rules of the road.” So since guidelines may vary by organization, as Alex discussed in his blog, as editor of the Tangerine (since we discussed possibly drafting a new “code of ethics” for the school newspaper previously), what sort of guidelines as far as use of social media would you establish for your student journalists?


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