So the big media news from last week was the sacking of Catherine Deveny over her Twitter comments on the Logies.

Some unwise remarks on Twitter got Catherine Deveny the sack

While the remarks were very poor taste and extremely stupid, the event has opened a huge media can of worms. Already this week I have received guidelines from up on high as to how to project myself on the world-wide web in order to not reflect poorly on the company I work for. No matter it may be in my own time and with no specific reference to publications, if I am an idiot and say something grossly offensive, I am risking my career. Scary stuff. Indeed even writing this is flirting dangerously with danger.

It is just the latest in a line of indiscretions on Twitter, not just in the media. In the UK, footballer Darren Bent tweeted a tirade of abuse to his bosses for not being transferred and got in a bit of a pickle as a result.

Darren Bent was also a naughty boy on Twitter

And as this article shows there have been many others, including a local council allowing a worker to run free under the council’s official banner until they realised what he was up to and shut the whole thing down.

To avoid the above misdemeanours, the guidance offered to us went along the lines of don’t bitch about anybody online (unless you can make sure you’re anonymous), don’t defame anyone, and realise even if you hadn’t realised, being a journo gives you a public profile, and if you don’t like it then get lost.

Useful, though not rocket science, but the Deveny case is worrying as it shows activities away from the newsroom can affect you in the newsroom.

It also leads down the path of whether social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook are “a good thing”. I myself am torn on the subject. I can see the appeal of them, and when used well (and perhaps this is my problem) they can be a great tool. David Higgerson shows you can really make some progress if you put in the hours and I know many Twitter converts who think it is the bees knees in terms of community journalism and the like.

But I am also very wary of Twitter. It really gets my goat when what people put on Twitter is used as the basis of a story, not least because there is no way to tell if it as the person themselves that put that up. Particular grievance came when a story on the wires about cyclist Jonathan Cantwell used a tweet as a quote. It shows as well as a force for good, Twitter can be exploited by lazy journalists, producing lazy journalism. The fact the quote was restricted to 140 characters and had to be puffed with numerous explanatory brackets did not seem to put the author off.

So where does this leave us? With a new social media wave (which some argue – and I am tempted to agree – is mainly filled with media luvvies and tech geeks anyway) which could continue to boom or fade away like so many others. It leaves us having a great avenue to listen to what our readers are thinking and the chance to catch real-time news. Conversely, we can send up-to-the-minute news to thousands with regular updates and instant feedback which could help deliver a story.

But we also have a medium that is not controlled, that is open to abuse, that can only be trusted to a limited extent and that offers as many pitfalls and dangers as it does positives.

The main advice would be to play it safe. Set up a Twitter account and try to use it for stories, but don’t personal opinions and keep it solely work focussed. But also be wary. The internet is never all that it seems and while lifting that Tweet seems like a great way to get an easy quote, is it really the best idea, and is that the sort of journalist you want to be?

Let me know what you think of Twitter using the poll.

Is this what readers think of newspapers?

Does anyone independent of a newspaper actually like it?

This may seem a disparaging viewpoint but following on from previous blogs I’m intrigued by the relationship between newspaper and reader.

I was subbing the letters page recently and there was, as always, a good deal of feedback, some positive and some not. One letter was full of praise for the paper for highlighting a local issue of importance. Kudos for the paper one would think. And you would hope readers who were concerned about the issue would also be appreciative.

But most of these people, or at least the vocal ones, are the ones you see at the meetings anyway and would know about the issue beforehand. It seems the majority of the letters praising the paper etc come from those who’ve had something in the paper, and often from very interested parties such as politicians and community groups.

Conversely, reading Greenslade’s blog on the UK city Brighton’s paper The Argus (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/apr/20/local-newspapers-newsquest) what struck me was the comments from readers who said they thought of the paper in the negative. I must confess that I have had the same experience here with my paper. When I mention the publication, the reaction is one of `oh yes, THAT paper’, before them going on about how there’s nothing good in it and it’s all lies.

At my old paper, we were thankfully seen in a brighter light (if people had even heard of us – but that’s another post altogether), but I imagine this had plenty to do with our competitor being somewhat brash (add horror to every headline being their key editorial policy it seemed) and thus the more conservative types preferring our straight bat approach. Even then the praise was more `you’re better than that other lot I suppose’. Hardly encouraging.

I’m intrigued to discover how many local journos have had people praise the paper just because they thought it was good, rather than because of some vested interest. And compare that to how many will openly criticise the paper and local journalism in general.

Do our readers actually like us? Or are we just better than the alternative (a poorer paper or nothing at all)? And why is there so much hostility towards local papers – and there really is a lot of vitriol out there?

That vitriol can be seen in some of the language of this post:

http://aljahom.wordpress.com/2010/04/20/epic-work/

Click through to the article it refers to and in the comments again is a lot of abuse – and this from people who at least have some interest in the media. I do not defend the publication, but journos and papers seem to bring out the wrath in the public and surely that is a concern when readership is dwindling daily.

Perhaps it is a question we should flip on its head, do we actually like our readers. That will follow in the next post methinks…