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Let’s connect: Balancing social media, business journalism and ethics

Freedom of Press Here is a situation that a business reporter could face.

A friend wants me to write a “positive” story about a major new business venture in town. He knows that I am with the community newspaper and his friends will see the story. In return, this friend will provide me with information that could turn into a bigger business story.

Plus my friend will do an on-camera interview that I, as my own videographer, can produce and post online to my community newspaper’s website.

Obviously, this connection can be – as they say – a “win-win” situation. Yet is it ethical?

GETTING THE STORY

While this is hypothetical, I know that there are examples of doing whatever it takes in order to “get the story.” Making up quotes, plagiarism and turning off-the-record comments into on-the-record ones are ways to get around sticky ethical issues.

love the smell of newsprintWho cares about ethics? I better because if I don’t, then my reputation and that of the newspaper itself will be tarnished.

Social media has pushed business reporting into breaking news, on a national and international level, to lightning-fast levels. Cable television’s round-the-clock news cycle started this ball rolling years ago with CNN. I would say even at community newspapers, there is the challenge of breaking news via social media and maintaining the print product’s need.

BALANCING IT OUT

Accuracy is so important in journalism, period.

I’ve made my share of mistakes in this business and you have, too. It’s the human element. Accuracy and ethics do a lovely dance together. Making sure they tango in rhythm is important for solid business reporting, from community newspapers all the way up to major metros.

Having said that, here are a few suggestions toward maintaining a healthy tango with social media, business journalism and ethics:

  • Make sure you have key information verified by at least two sources.
  • Before Tweeting or blogging about a subject, get clear on what you want to say. Yes, even in 140 characters … it matters.
  • Research your subject matter so that you can come from a place of awareness and knowledge. Even in a one-man shop, get clear about reporting on the subject whether it is the oil and natural gas industry, construction or small business owners.
  • Ask for help. There is no need to play “The Lone Ranger” when dealing with touchy business subjects.

Well, this wraps up my time here for August. Thanks for reading these blog entries and I hope they have provided a view into community newspaper journalism from a business editor’s viewpoint.

About the Author

Joe Rutland recently was Business Editor with the Laredo Morning Times, a community newspaper in Laredo, TX. Rutland has 25-plus years in the communications and media industry, working for metro and community newspapers in Texas as well as expanding his reach into social media, too. You can follow Rutland on Twitter: @JoeRutland

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