Newspaper Tells Reporters Not To Engage With Community
from the the-view-from-nowhere dept
We’ve pointed out over and over again that one of the main things that legacy newspapers get wrong today is this idea that they’re in the “news” business, rather than the “community” business. They’ve always been in the community business, and then they take that community — which they build up around news — and sell their attention to advertisers. The problem, which much of the industry is facing, is that they’re no longer the only game in town when it comes to the community stuff. But rather than recognize that and improve their community efforts and features, many newspapers seem to be going in the other direction: putting up paywalls and avoiding the community. For example, Mathew Ingram got his hands on the official “social media policy” of the Toronto Star newspaper, in which the paper tells its staff not to engage with readers online, for fear that this might be a sign of “bias.”
As well, journalists should refrain from debating issues within the Star?s online comments forum to avoid any suggestion that they may be biased in their reporting.
Seriously. This is a classic example of what journalism professor Jay Rosen refers to as “the view from nowhere,” in which a media property spends so much effort trying to make sure that no one thinks it actually has an opinion on anything, that it won’t even step in to clear up what’s factual and what’s not. Too many news organizations feel the need to “present both sides of the story,” as if because there are two sides, they’re equally balanced, and presenting them both as equal is the equivalent of “objective reporting.” It’s not. It’s inherently biasing whatever side is not being truthful or accurate. In such cases, the press, while hiding behind a claim of being “objective,” is really biased in that it’s giving undue support to factually incorrect or misleading arguments.
Furthermore, pretending that your staff doesn’t actually have an opinion makes them seem robotic and less human. I understand why people value “objective reporting,” but pretending someone doesn’t have an opinion doesn’t make the reporting any more objective than having the reporter clearly state what that opinion might be. Beyond letting people calibrate the rest of that reporter’s coverage, it actually shows that the reporter is human and makes them more able to connect with fans.
But apparently, that’s not what the Toronto Star wants.
Of course, even worse than these bad social media policies is the Toronto Star’s response to the leak and Ingram’s story about their policies. The paper’s spokesperson, Bob Hepburn, told Ingram that the policy was fine because it is “well in line with what mainstream media organizations have always done. We’ve always placed some limitations on journalists in terms of them expressing their opinions, either in the newspaper or outside of the newspaper.”
I’ve heard people say that, “if someone tells you a deal term must remain because it’s ‘standard,’ it means they don’t understand why it’s there either.” That seems to be the Toronto Star’s response here. Yes, we have braindead, shortsighted and self-defeating social media policies that do more harm than good… but it’s okay because they’re the same braindead, shortsighted and self-defeating social media policies most of our competitors have. Now there’s a standard of excellence to strive for: let’s make sure we make the same mistakes everyone else makes.