We have recently seen a spate of stories that touch on the tricky issue of professional and personal persona's in the developing social media space.
One of the first was Adam Smith, the British reporter covering the 2008 Presidential election for the Birmingham Mail who commented to camera while drunk that he was about to resign and that he had cut and pasted his reporting from the BBC. When he saw the video he said:
Andrews was not just anyone, he was Vice President for Interactive Strategy and Solutions at public relations agency Ketchum, and he was flying in to Memphis to coach FedEx in using social media. Memphis is FedEx home town.
Someone from FedEx was following Andrews on Twitter, and that person shared the post among the top executives at the company’s corporate communications office.
They were not happy.
Very not happy.
Here are some quotes from their letter to James Andrews:
Many of my peers and I feel this is inappropriate. We do not know
the total millions of dollars FedEx Corporation pays Ketchum annually
for the valuable and important work your company does for us around the
globe. We are confident however, it is enough to expect a greater level
of respect and awareness from someone in your position as a vice
president at a major global player in your industry. A hazard of social
networking is people will read what you write.
Considering that we just entered the second year of a U.S. recession, and we are experiencing significant business loss due to the global economic downturn, many of my peers and I question the expense of paying Ketchum to produce the video open for today’s event; work that could have been achieved by internal, award-winning professionals with decades of experience in television production.
(the entire letter can be read here or here giving alternate views on the situation)
Andrews responded to the situation on the keyinfluencer blog.
A recent iteration is David George-Cosh, technology reporter at the Canadian Financial Post who verbally coshed a marketing consultant from Toronto. Believing she was giving him a hard time he waded into her about a Tweet she made after talking to him:
The outburst resulted in an apology from the paper:
While the remarks were made on the reporter's personal Twitter account, the conversation first began when the reporter was acting in his capacity as a reporter for the Financial Post.
We hold — and will continue to hold — all our reporters to a higher standard in how they address anyone, in any forum.
We apologize for the reporter’s conduct.
(Bty see comment #4 to the apology which is a good tip when doing one. My note)
All these examples point to one thing:
The major difficulty we are having in managing the new openness of social media.
As journalists (and this applies equally to other professionals) join social networks, begin to try to interact with the community in a new way, start to take seriously the idea that conversation and nurturing networks is the way forward they find themselves on unfamiliar territory.
Codes of conduct such as "our job is to chronicle the news, not make it. Participation in events such as public demonstrations, where a staff member could be involved unintentionally in making the news, always will be discouraged (*)" have been held as a gold standard for reporters.
Keep yourself out of the story.
David Randel says in The Universal Journalist":
This advice seems to militate against the constant flow of personal information from journalists using Twitter. I would argue that giving the (personal) context to a story, allowing the totality of the reporters situation to inform the reporting thus increasing the transparency is a good start to trust building. This does not mean that the published story should be cluttered with ancillary detail. It does mean that the context can be available (and linked to) for all to see/hear/view.
Digital is disruptive. Disruption is difficult, divisive, demanding and messy. If we are serious when we talk about conversation as a central pillar for journalism then we have to understand the messy nature of conversation.
This means that (news) organizations need to reevaluate concepts like: trust: loyalty: chain of command:
Trust has meant brand trust. The Title is the thing. Now, trust means the individual reporter, the person I talk with. I trust people more the more I know them. Their faults are as important to building trust as their virtues. This puts a new light on "loyalty". In the Adam Smith and James Andrews incidents above their crime was disloyalty to the brand. But in both cases what the brand sees as disloyalty I see as honesty.
I can forgive an individuals indiscretion but not a brands attempt to cover up (as opposed to openly dealing with) what they see as as disloyalty.
As to chain of command, it will not be possible to have a conversation if every word has to first be run by a vetting agency. Employers need to trust their employees to be able to carry on conversations, and to understand that the conversations are held in public.