I changed my mind a few years ago when I attended a presentation by the Standards Editor of The New York Times, Phillip Corbett. He told us that journalists today are expected to be present on all forms of social media – blogs, Facebook and Twitter among them. He explained the Times policy and I created a twitter account before the lecture was over.
Since then, I’ve had a few Twitter disasters but I feel committed to my 205 followers and to this bright new world. It is kind of like the Wild West out here, but in a good way: It’s wide-open and full of light and it’s where the future is.
The world we live in is on-line, especially the world of teenagers. If we want to reach them, we need to be where they are. Mr. Rogers said, "We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." (1994, quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
I want teenagers to know there’s someone there – defending them when they are attacked, nudging them gently when they post something unkind, hearing them when they post cries for help. I want to give them a small window into my life and my thoughts. I want to know what’s going on in their worlds.
The Times policy says, “First, we should always treat Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms as public activities. Regardless of your privacy controls or the size of your follower list, anything you post online can easily be shared with a wider audience.” I am aware every word I put on Twitter is public and I want my students to know that too.
The Times policy adds, “And second, you are a Times journalist, and your online behavior should be appropriate for a Times journalist. Readers will inevitably associate anything you post on social media with The Times.” I know every word is a reflection on the school in which I teach and the county that employs me, and the profession of teachers in general.
The Times policy concludes, “Those two basic principles should be enough to guide us in most situations. Be thoughtful. Take care that nothing you say online will undercut your credibility as a journalist. Newsroom staff members should avoid editorializing or promoting political views. And we should be civil – even to critics – and avoid personal attacks and offensive remarks.”
If my students take that policy as their own – be thoughtful, be civil, avoid attacks – what a wonderful place this new Wild West will become.