June 2012 Panel: To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

The Deadline Club hosted a panel about the benefits and risks of Twitter at the New York Newspaper Guild of New York on May 17. The five panelists, including social media editors and experts, answered questions from a crowd of around 70 journalists. Armed with the hashtag #deadline, individuals from Los Angeles to London followed along via – what else? – Twitter.

In a changing media landscape, where journalists are breaking stories and offering instant updates on Twitter, they sometimes tweet at their own risk, panelists said. Moderator Allan Chernoff, a media counselor at Fleishman-Hillard and long-time senior correspondent at CNN and CNBC, gave examples of journalists at major media organizations who have been reprimanded or even lost their jobs because of tweets that their employers deemed inappropriate.

Attendees listen to panelists. Photo by Catherine Gin.

Sree Sreenivasan, a social media guru and the dean of student affairs at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, said that commenting on Twitter was “the only thing that I can do today that can get me fired today.” It is also the only thing he will ever write, he said, that will be recorded in the Library of Congress. “I take three to six minutes to think over each tweet,” he cautioned.

In fact, some editing occurred on the spot, when Lou Ferrara, the Associated Press vice president in charge of the Nerve Center, the global news hub at AP’s headquarters in New York, said that he had been misquoted by someone using the hashtag for the event. The irony of this real-time correction was instantly conveyed in follow-on tweets.

Anjali Mullany, the social media editor of Fast Company, who previously held the same position at the New York Daily News, said that she would rather be the last to report something than be wrong.

Finding credible sources on Twitter can also be challenging, panelists said. Anthony De Rosa, the social media editor for Reuters, as well as a columnist and host for Tech Tonic on Reuters TV, said that even with a direct message via Twitter, it’s a good idea to follow-up with sources via old-fashioned email. Be careful with a misfired direct message, he said.

From left to right Jessica Drangel Ochs, Allan Chernoff and John Ensslin. Photo by Catherine Gin

Reporters should publish their contact information, Sreenivasan said, suggesting they list their email addresses and phone numbers in Twitter bios.

Jessica Drangel Ochs, an attorney at the law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein who advises unions and employees in their dealings with employers, answered questions about the rights that employees have over their Twitter accounts. In one pending court case, she said, a defendant is being sued for taking a group of followers away from an organization they had left. She said that some media organizations have communications policies that illegally restrict their employees’ speech.

So what are a few key tips that Deadline Club members and their guests walked away with?

Think before tweeting about the impact that a message might have on your company or your own personal brand.  Aim for accuracy over timeliness. Use Twitter within the guidelines of an employer. But don’t underestimate the potential benefits of this new medium, either.

“Reporters should own their beats,” Sreenivasan commented. “And one of the ways to do that is via Twitter.”

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