Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Should supposedly objective reporters and editors be permitted to express their personal political opinions on Twitter and other social media? The Washington Post says no.


MK said...

Interesting! I'm surprised at how little sympathy the writer of the article or the people commenting had for the employer. Some seemed to believe the WaPo doesn't want its reporters to have opinions whereas it seems it just does not want them to reveal them. Having seen the extreme rhetoric that some posters on the Post's message board use about some of its stories, I can understand that. Much of rhetoric seems to reflect simmering anger about issues rather than the actual reporting. How much worse might it be if the posters on the WaPo site were able to throw a reporter's casual, off the cuff words at him?

Perhaps I have more sympathy for the employer because of where I used to work. NARA, of course, also requires its archivists to do their work in an objective, nonpartisan manner. Interestingly, I've encountered some pushback from younger archivists when I've argued that archivists who want to work at NARA and especially at its Presidential Libraries should think before they Tweet. I've pointed out that everything I write on the web is with "the record" in mind. Not everyone takes these things so seriously.

Many of the archival studies students and newbies who've heard such advice have pooh poohed the idea that others can misuse their words or seek to do them harm. Some have told me that I'm being old fashioned, that young people are used to the concept of "no privacy." I've argued that you can't assume you will be treated fairly, that you may have some of your words cherry picked and used against you in situations you never anticipated and even find yourself unable to defend yourself. It's a terrible, very helpless feeling, especially when others hold the cards (or have much more power than you).

Sometimes, people are their own worst enemies. I've seen a few non-federal archivists who lean both left and right express such hostile opinions about some Presidents and political parties that I've wondered whether it would be a good idea for them to apply for jobs at Presidential Libraries. If an aspiring Presidential Libraries applicant cheerleads too strongly for a President or attacks him verbally too harshly, might that not raise doubts as to whether s/he can screen his records for release in an objective manner?

To my knowledge, no NL archivists have personal Twitter accounts under their real names. Of course, I've been out of the archival field for nearly 20 years now. I'm thankful Twitter wasn't around in my day. Just think, Stan Mortenson might have scoured Twitter to see if there was anything he could have used against us, LOL!

MK said...

P.S. Institututions, private and public, depend on the viability and quality of their brand. I believe very, very strongly that it is the obligation of the employer to protect its employees. That includes mitigating or managing risk. I certainly understand that for some institutions, risk assessment results in decisions on balancing tests which insiders may weigh differently than outsiders. It may result in a directive which outsiders may ridicule, as some of the posters under the article did. But top officials and senior managers may look at this as a stewardship issues. (Good managers always have stewardship in mind.) You just have to live with criticism by those who haven't walked in your shoes or who haven't worked in high risk situations/

Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. When I worked as a reporter, most of my colleagues took pride in keeping their political opinions to themselves -- not that it wasn't a reasonably safe assumption that most of us leaned left. Op-eds and letters to the editor on the subjects we were covering were discouraged or prohibited, for reasons that seemed axiomatic. Being overt about one's opinions was something journalists were willing to give up in exchange for admission to the sanctum sanctorum of the Fourth Estate. People's insistence about their right to self expression feels like an expression of the culture's prevailing self-centeredness.