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.

An Australian man…

Perhaps the worst intro ever? But not according to some. What is the obsession with location. Yes, hyperlocal is the in thing, and yes I understand with websites that if you put locations at the top of things it makes them easier to find on Google etc.

But in a local or regional paper, does someone really need to know the suburb a man comes from in the opening paragraph? I’ve always had the belief if it’s a good yarn then people will want to read it, regardless of where they are from. Why would people bother reading national stories otherwise? Most involve people they don’t know from places far away (that they might not ever have been to). Yet they read them because they are interesting.

This means either the local rag story is dull as dishwater and the only pulling power is that Mr Darcy who stubbed his toe rather badly is from Little Bigtown, or there is too much emphasis on location. And if it is a good yarn then the reader is likely to read up until the point you mention they’re locality anyway

It’s obvious they’re going to be vaguely local as it’s a bloody local paper! Really there should be more emphasis on location if they’re from the moon rather than Townsville or wherever.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that following the strangely obligatory location identifier, the generic man is thrown in. To me it screams of lazy journalism. Someone has not asked what the subject of the story does for a living, or how old they are, or what they used to do, or their favourite past-time etc. All of these would likely make a better intro: a part-time contortionist, a retired lion tamer, a one-time pal of the Queen, a constipated plumber, a 90-year-old pole dancer…

So why do so many journalists persist in using the age-old “A Somewhere man” and why do so many sub editors let it in? What do you think of “A Newtown man”? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Do you give a monkeys about where a person’s from if they’ve just fought off a crocodile with a small eggplant? Let me know below.