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.

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I’ve been meaning to blog about that dreaded 21st century journo tool, social networking, but have been pulling double shifts and other such fun so you may need to wait a little while.

In the meantime here’s a couple of interesting links.

The first is an old blog resurfaced praising (though maybe it should be warning) about the consequences of dating a journalist.

http://www.rockmycar.net/2007/05/10/5-things-you-should-know-before-dating-a-journalist/

The second is a UK blog about the truth behind the Newspaper Society’s Newspaper Week campaign, trying to get readers to appreciate their local rag. It’s depressing stuff but on the money.

http://blunt-a-blog.blogspot.com/2010/05/local-newspaper-week.html

Enjoy

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.

I thought I’d start this blog with a nice simple issue. Is the reader always right?

It’s the message we have been receiving from the powers that be. They have spent good money on in-depth research (that in itself is highly impressive given the tight purse strings of most newspaper bosses). Now they have all the results it is understandable they are using them for all their worth. We have detailed breakdowns of our readership – who has gone, who has come, who remain, who we should be going after etc.

It makes for fascinating stuff and as a reporter it might just be the first time in a newsroom I have actually been told in no uncertain terms who we are writing for and who exactly our audience is. In the past it has more been an editor saying these are good stories and these are not, and learning through that.

All very well and good but to what extent should we trust the input from our beloved readers? From experience the reader is definitely not always right. From the readers who claim you’ve made an error when you know you haven’t, to the interviewees who claim you misquoted them even though it is all on tape and in shorthand. Then there are the regular green ink brigade spouting about God, or conspiracies or both in the letter pages. These people also took part in the survey no doubt. How can you discount their input? Should you?

While I have no doubt reader feedback is useful, I wonder if too much is being read into their answers. When editorial content is being specifically targeted to individuals based on polls and survey results, you run the risk of pandering to a readership who more often than not do not know what the hell they want (for example I never hear the end of people saying there are not enough “good news stories” in the paper, despite none ever saying what a good news story is and all still fascinated by those stories you imagine they would term “bad news”).

What is to say in six months time they change their mind and tell us actually they don’t like lots of small stories anymore and instead would like in-depth features. No we don’t want celeb stories and actually all the boring council stuff we used to ignore is interesting as they’ve shoved a giant phone mast next to my house and I had no idea as I was reading about Lindsay Lohan coming to town.

So do we trust the reader implicitly and follow their desires, or do we give them what we think is good and interesting and right and hope they agree?