Journalists Have Learned That Engaging With Their Audiences Via Social Media Carries Personal and Professional Risks

From a story on by Jacob L. Nelson headlined Journalists’ reactions to newsroom social media policies”:

Journalists increasingly rely on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to pursue audience engagement, which many believe necessary for improving journalism’s popularity and credibility among the public. However, journalists have learned that engaging with their audiences via social media platforms carries personal and professional risks—namely accusations of political bias that can lead to termination from their jobs, as well as trolling, doxing, and threats of physical violence. This is especially true for women journalists and journalists of color. Journalists consequently find themselves walking a “Twitter tightrope,” where they feel compelled to use social media platforms to build awareness for and trust in their work, yet simultaneously apprehensive about the professional pitfalls and “dark participation” they encounter while doing so.

This report examines the extent to which newsroom managers help—or hinder—their journalists when it comes to navigating the risks and challenges of audience engagement via social media platforms. It draws on interviews with 37 reporters, editors, publishers, freelancers, and social media/audience engagement managers from throughout the U.S. about their experiences with and thoughts about their newsrooms’ social media policies. The dataset comprises current and former employees of local, national, for-profit, nonprofit, print, digital, and broadcast outlets. It also comprises mostly female journalists and journalists of color, who are more likely to encounter abuse and harassment on social media.

Findings reveal:

  • Journalists see online abuse as the cost of practicing audience engagement via social media, but feel that newsroom social media policies reflect their managers’ focus on the public’s perception of their organizations rather than on the public’s harassment of their journalists.
  • Journalists are encouraged to be “active” and “authentic” social media users, yet many of their newsroom social media policies offer little guidance or support for when journalists subsequently face personal, aggressive attacks.
  • Journalists believe their newsroom social media policies to be primarily focused on maintaining organizational credibility, specifically by discouraging journalists from sharing anything on social media that could compromise the perceived objectivity of the outlet as a whole.
  • Journalists feel their newsroom’s social media guidance is unhelpfully ambiguous and unequally enforced.
  • Women journalists and journalists of color see newsroom social media policies as negatively affecting them in two ways: They feel insufficiently protected from the abuse they were more likely to receive, and unfairly singled out for using social media in ways their managers claim undercuts their organization’s professed neutrality.

The journalists interviewed also made recommendations for how newsroom social media policies could be improved. They suggested, for example, that newsrooms take a proactive (rather than reactive) approach to online harassment and that newsroom managers consider privileging transparency over objectivity when it comes to social media use. Most importantly, they recommended that newsrooms hire more women journalists and journalists of color, and give those journalists the agency with which to not only shape the social media policies of their organizations, but to contribute to larger discussions surrounding the values of those organizations as well. The report concludes by suggesting that the tension between journalists and their managers when it comes to newsroom social media policies mirrors larger discussions unfolding throughout the profession surrounding representation within newsrooms and the value and limits of objectivity….

Note: The report is long, interesting, and well-worth reading.

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