Washington Post Tells Reporters To Stop Engaging Readers On Twitter
from the how-not-to-connect dept
I’ve occasionally gotten into debates with Techdirt critics on Twitter, and I’ll admit the medium is not all that well-suited for thoughtful debate. But, I have found that it is often a good way to, at least, better understand why someone might be upset about something we said or did, and to perhaps try to address it in some other manner (a separate blog post, email, etc.). Of course, it’s certainly possible to do a bad job of engaging someone via Twitter, but it seems like a bit of a stretch to say that it’s a mistake to respond to criticism. Yet, it appears that’s what the Washington Post did. It had published a rather ridiculous story from an “anti-gay activist” implying that being gay is a mental health issue, touching on a few recent stories of suicides by several teenagers who were, in some manner, bullied for their homosexuality. Not surprisingly, a gay activist group, GLAAD, complained on Twitter about the article.
The Washington Post’s official Twitter feed tried to defend the story, by claiming that the newspaper was trying to cover “both sides” of the story. As GLAAD correctly pointed out, this was not a story that had “both sides.” It’s unfortunate that so many news organizations appear to believe that there are two (and only two) sides to every story, and are willing to report each equally without ever taking a stand on which is the actual story. Either way, after this exchange, the Washington Post alerted its staffers to no longer engage with the public via Twitter in this manner:
Even as we encourage everyone in the newsroom to embrace social media and relevant tools, it is absolutely vital to remember that the purpose of these Post branded accounts is to use them as a platform to promote news, bring in user generated content and increase audience engagement with Post content. No branded Post accounts should be used to answer critics and speak on behalf of the Post, just as you should follow our normal journalistic guidelines in not using your personal social media accounts to speak on behalf of the Post.
Perhaps it would be useful to think of the issue this way: when we write a story, our readers are free to respond and we provide them a venue to do so. We sometimes engage them in a private verbal conversation, but once we enter a debate personally through social media, this would be equivalent to allowing a reader to write a letter to the editor–and then publishing a rebuttal by the reporter. It’s something we don’t do.
Now, this raises some questions. First of all, if part of the purpose is to increase audience engagement, doesn’t that involve… um… engaging? It seems weird to suggest the way to increase user engagement is to avoid engaging. On top of that, the second paragraph just has me shaking my head. Why wouldn’t a newspaper let a reporter publish a rebuttal? Isn’t that what engagement is about? The search for “truth” comes from discussing things with different viewpoints, and it seems like something of a massive cop-out for the Washington Post to say that it will refrain from engaging with those who question its reporting.