Journalists and online etiquette

The latest column by The Guardian’s Readers’ editor Siobhain Butterworth, makes interesting reading. It tackles the sticky issue of community interaction

When five Guardian writers took part in a discussion about a music blog post in December, a reader complained that their intervention was “heavy-handed” and that the topic chosen was deliberately provocative. The author of the piece, who contributed to the discussion, agrees that the talk thread was “a bit pugilistic” and a couple of comments from Guardian writers matched that tone. How should journalists conduct themselves in online conversations?

Its a nice trip around some of the issues but one defence was a bit hollow

“You can see why journalists might be reluctant to join online conversations. Imagine that you arrive at the office one morning, you take your coat off and you’re just sitting down when a crowd of masked strangers bursts in, gathers around your desk and spends the rest of the day making derisory comments about the way you do your job. Work, for journalists whose newspaper columns are posted online, can sometimes feel a bit like that.”

Might seem like a valid point but as one (of many) who commented points out

 Yes, but occupation I chose does not require me to share my thoughts and insights with the population in print. I guess if you have elected to carve a career out of telling the great british public what you think, and demonstrating how terribly well informed and insightful you are about a topic, then it seems fair enough that they are given the opportunity to challenge your point of view, correct inaccuracies, whatever.

Another commentator is more succinct

Sorry Siobhan, but that won’t do. Those masked strangers are not random assailants, they are your journalists’ clients, customers and audience.

Overall, Butterworth said it was the view of most journalists that “they should hold themselves to higher standards of behaviour than other contributors.” It’s a good point but a difficult balance to strike given that change in relationship.

If the ground shifts beneath your feet the tempation is to take a step back to more familiar, isolated ground where the audience are a homogeneous mass to be tolerated.  Higher standards, yes. More distance, no.

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