A visit to the A pool

Following my previous post about unhappily swimming in the B Pool, I’m pleased to have been able to scramble my way through to a bit of a splash in the A pool. You know, that place where the cool kids are?  

My final paper for Media Ethics,  Twittering a Funeral: Social media’s challenge to professional journalism received a final A grade. I think my professor was just as relieved and pleased about it as I am. december-2008-001

I’ll be working on the paper further to prepare it for possible conference/journal submission, under the intuitive guidance of Professor Mike McDevitt. Without his assistance in structuring my paper all the stuff in my head would still be struggling for a voice.

Anyway, I’ll happily send it along to anyone who’d like the long, academic version. Just email me or DM me on Twitter. But for those of you with lives not academically focused, here are the key points:

Statement of Purpose
This paper examines the impact on the professionalism of journalism as it integrates the social networking tool Twitter in traditional news reporting. The paper considers the use of Twitter by the Rocky Mountain News in which a child’s funeral was “live blogged,” as well as the ensuing outcry and response from the editor, John Temple. It identifies the particular characteristics of Twitter as a communication tool, and proposes an ethical model which supports the use of Twitter in professional journalism.

The paper then outlines the case study of the Rocky Mountain News’ reporting of a child’s funeral using Twitter, and identifies why this use was not only unethical but a case of unprofessional journalism. This is journalism which doesn’t address the recommendations of the Hutchins Commission, and puts the autonomy of American journalists, as well as their credibility, in the firing line. There is a desperate need for reporters to be trained in the functionality of Twitter and fully understand it as well as the community (not audience) which supports it.

I recommend a model which outlines three ways Twitter should not be used, as well as three ways in which it supports professional journalism.

1. When the use of Twitter (either through implementing the tool or the result) is perceived as a possible invasion of privacy. 

2. When another journalistic tool would better serve the reporting need or the ability of the journalist.

3. When a journalist or media entity is unfamiliar with social media in its complete form, not just as a broadcast medium.


1. As a resource for newsgathering purposes, in preparing information for stories, getting leads, etc.

2. As a public journalism tool – where the journalist can attend an event and act as the mediator between the community and the event. Eg: a red carpet event, where the community can ask the journalist questions and she can filter them and respond accordingly (of course, this takes a different sort of journalistic training.)

3. For Amber Alerts (abducted children), especially when the child is suspected to have been abducted overseas; and for issues of imminent need or notice such as natural disasters, etc. The input would come from reliable sources, and media would then be able to aid in important efforts to communicate with the respectability of their professional branding adding weight to the message going out through the Twitter stream. 

I hope the A pool welcomes me back a few more times. It’s really nice.


  • Interested read…thanks for your comment drawing my attention to it.

    It does seem a tad insensitive to be tweeting a childs funeral – it raises the question of who actually wanted to read live updates of an event of this kind? Twitter is a little like liveblogging when reporting in this way – and I don’t think a liveblog is an appropriate method of covering a funeral.

    On the other hand though, I remember a live-tweet of a high-profile court case, which was a very interesting experiment in reporting using social media.

    I find this a little troubling though:


    1. When the use of Twitter (either through implementing the tool or the result) is perceived as a possible invasion of privacy. ”

    What is the difference between using Twitter in a story that invades privacy to a more traditional way of reporting? The funeral would have been reported anyway, most likely in a more usual news story format. The only difference is the immediacy of the medium, no?

    Stay in touch.

  • Hi thanks for your comments! In answer to your question, professional journalists have dealt with the invasion of privacy issue when learning to adopt different reporting media. There is a respectable distance, for example, at funerals. You don’t go into the chapel and stick the camera into the casket. You don’t even run the camera inside the chapel at all. It would however be respectable for a newspaper journalist to sit in a rear pew and use pen/paper to take short notes to build a story with. Using Twitter is reporting using a different medium, and once again journalists are faced with a new range of media-centric nuances which need to be appreciated to ensure effective, responsible reporting.
    It’s a lot like the difference between live TV and recorded TV. In the interests of the professionalism of the brand, professional journalists don’t get to make mistakes without damaging their brands. Twitter is as live as it gets – and when that means the quality of the reporting is crappy then the brand suffers. Better not to do it at all. That said, there are some things that live TV offers which prerecorded can not. Journalists need to find those exciting capabilities with Twitter and use them to their benefit, to expand their professional toolkit and professional brands.
    Look forward to keeping in touch.

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